A Noble Purpose

This story follows the story posted here. It serves as Canaith Lydian’s origin story as well as progressing the story of the relationship between Canaith Lydian and Meara Natinde.

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Finding a Counselor

Meara Natinde was piloting the Regal Ride, a Diplomatic Shuttle designed to travel quickly. It was, at least, designed to be a comfortable option for its passengers. The only passengers on board were a group of six soldiers, a security detail she had picked up in Ziona. She was on her way to the Theology Council Tribunal in the Ashab system to pick up a person of interest to Canaith Lydian, Meara’s commander, mentor, and very dear friend.

“His name is Drakon,” Canaith had said, sending her an attachment that contained Drakon’s information. “I need you to find him and ask him to meet with me. If he is reluctant, you may pay him handsomely.”

“I will find him and set up an online session for you,” Meara said.

“I need to see him in person, Meara,” Canaith had said. “Please be diligent to guarantee his identity. It is a matter of personal security. The man must be who he claims to be.”

There had been a long pause. Canaith was known to be a recluse and never saw anyone in person but her. The request put Meara off guard.

Really?” Meara had said, showing her surprise, and when Canaith had simply stared at her, she had replied, “I will begin the search at once.”

She had found the man after a few days of searching. He was an elderly, semi-retired Priest with no family who was living in a Monastery in the Ahab system. As she searched, she discovered that this man had connections to Canaith’s family from years ago, but with little explanation of what that connection was. When she contacted the man, he had shown no interest in meeting until she had mentioned Canaith Lydian by name. They had come to a financial arrangement after that.

Canaith had not spoken a word to Meara about her unusual quest in the handful of days that followed, and Meara’s respect for her friend had restrained her from asking about it. This did not keep her from feeling curious. Canaith wanting to see someone face to face was so out of character for her friend that Meara found herself in great anticipation of learning the reason why.

For the last several weeks, Meara admitted, Canaith had been demonstrating behavior that was not of his normal patterns. The two of them had been taking a break from the Faction War for several weeks, and though they had taken breaks before, on this particular respite they had done things differently. They had, in the words of Canaith, “pretended for a time that they yet lived’”. They had lived outside of their pods for days at a time. They had seen each other face-to-face every day for weeks. They had even spent a few days Planet-side. What had prompted these changes in Canaith was as yet a mystery to Meara, though she certainly had no complaints. To Meara, the time had been precious, a set of circumstances to which she would never have dared to dream.

As Regal Ride pulled into a berth at the Theology Council Tribunal station, Meara sent a mental note to the team leader of the security detail. “This is Natinde. You are up. Keep me posted on your progress.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” came the reply. “We have gotten word that the subject is awaiting us. The away team is already enroute.”

The six man security team filed out of their in-station shuttle as soon as it had landed in the center of a large receiving area. Close to the landing pad, an older man dressed in traditional but modest garb was standing by a courier bot. The security detail moved quickly, with three men surrounding the priest and two hanging back, weapons drawn. The sixth guard, the team leader, approached.

Their subject did not carry himself in the manner typical of many Amarr priests. He lacked any trace of a haughty demeanor, nor did his posture give the indication of power wielded by those of his cast. He had wise, friendly eyes, which grew a bit wider once he realized weapons were trained on him.

“Father Drakon?” one of the guards asked. “Aurelious Drakon?”

“Um… yes,” the man replied. “I am he.”

“As you see here,” the guard continued, holding up a digital device, “I have an approved security request to sample your cells. This sample will be used for authentication purposes, and it will be painless. You may deny the request, though if you do we will notify the Ministry of Internal Security, who will attempt to determine why. May we proceed?”

The man smiled, which emphasized the friendly creases around his eyes.

“You may certainly proceed,” he said.

As the guard approached to take the sample, the other five members of the detail tensed, ready to respond to any unexpected moves. At this, the man’s smile diminished a bit. He seemed to understand that these men meant business.

The team leader placed a small device on Drakon’s neck and then stepped back to a safe distance. A few seconds later, he said “You are authenticated.” At these words, the security detail holstered their weapons and visibly relaxed. “Thank you, Father,” the team leader offered, “for your cooperation.”

“No trouble at all,” the priest said. “Is Canaith with you?”

“No, Father,” the team leader replied, his face an expression suggesting there was an inside joke at play. “We are to deliver you to him.”

“Of course,” said Drakon. “May we proceed?”

And so they proceeded. Within a few minutes, Regal Ride was again in space, making its comfortable way through the three Jump Gates between Ahab and Ziona.

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Reunion

A couple of hours later, after a series of transport changes, escort changes, and typical bureaucratic formalities, Drakon found himself being escorted by a group of four soldiers through the interior of an intimidatingly large vessel. He had been told that the ship was the Radiant Spirit, a Marauder-class Paladin that was owned by Canaith Lydian. Drakon had heard of such ships, but only in stories. Everyone he saw was busy, hurrying, saluting, and putting off an aura of discipline. Through every corridor, an appreciation of Amarr Tradition was evidenced. Had Drakon been assigned to find something out of order here, he suspected he would have come up empty-handed.

Finally, after riding in more than one transit car and a handful of elevators, Drakon’s escorts led him from a rather fancy elevator to an important-looking door. A security warning was posted above the door, along with a sign that read Capsule Access. Automated sentries, crafted to look like stern-faced religious warriors, stood at either side of the door. They came to attention as Drakon and his escorts approached.

“Explain,” one of the sentries voiced, in a voice that sounded human enough.

“We have brought Aurelious Drakon, as ordered.” one of Drakon’s escorts voiced with more confidence than Drakon could have managed.

“You may leave him with me,” the sentry droned. Then it brought its intimidating gaze upon Drakon. “You shall wait here for the arrival of Meara Natinde,” it said with finality. Nothing in Drakon cared to resist the instruction.

The guards turned as one to leave just as the door of the elevator they had used opened. Two more guards exited the elevator, followed by an attractive woman with what Drakon decided was a commanding presence. Drakon’s escorts immediately lowered their heads and brought a fist to their chests, holding that position without moving another muscle.

“Thank you, Gentlemen,” the woman voiced. “You are dismissed.” Drakon’s escorts snapped to attention and then quickly filed into the elevator. Once they were gone, the woman’s attention turned to Drakon, who found himself feeling a bit exposed now that his escorts had left him.

The woman had light brown hair that was neatly put up into a bun. Her dress and makeup were without an imperfection. Something about her seemed almost too perfect. Though she was not tall, she put off a confidence that made physical stature unnecessary. As Drakon caught the woman’s gaze, he found himself captivated by the compelling blend of kindness and strength reflected in her eyes. The intensity of her presence weighed heavily on his conscience, leading him to conclude that he would rather displease the automated sentries than to turn this woman’s smile into a frown. Though he was a member of the Amarrian clergy, he could not resist the urge to offer her a bow. Something unspoken demanded it.

“Elder Drakon,” she said without bowing in the slightest, “I am so pleased that you could come.”

Drakon was flattered by her respectful address, though he clearly received the message sent by her refusal to bow. This could only mean one thing.

“You are a Capsuleer?” he asked her, the question sounding more like a statement. Only Capsuleers and Holders had the status to treat the clergy as an equal.

“I am,” she answered. “I am Meara Natinde, assisting Lieutenant to Canaith Lydian.”

At the instant that she spoke her name, the massive door clanked and spun open. The woman stepped past Drakon and into the room, where she smiled beautifully at someone outside of Drakon’s view. He found himself wondering what kind of person it would take to earn such a glow from this potent force of a woman.

Without a spoken word, Meara’s escort moved to stand next to the automated sentries. They looked like they took her security seriously.

“Please come in, Drakon,” a man’s voice spoke from beyond the door.

The lack of an honorific indicated familiarity, and so the priest knew to whom the voice must belong. Drakon scampered through the doorway at a pace that revealed his excitement. On the other side of the room, beside a small table covered with a variety of cookies, stood a man dressed in a formal naval uniform. Like Meara, he emanated a confidence and a fearlessness that seemed to leave a wake in the room. But, finally, Drakon found in his eyes something familiar.

“Canaith, my Son,” he said, his kind, old voice quivering with emotion. “It has been so very long.”

“It has,” Canaith said, smiling. “I have missed you, Old Friend.”

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An Unusual Request

Hours later, Drakon was seated with his hosts, eating yet another cookie and downing it with real milk. So far, their time had been spent catching Meara up on Drakon’s relationship with Canaith. They had explained that he had been one of Canaith’s mentors throughout Canaith’s young life. At Meara’s urging, Drakon had described his connection to the Lydian family and how Canaith’s spiritual curiosity had led to their close friendship.

Though Canaith was the subject of most of their conversation, it had been Meara who had done the talking. Drakon found himself rather enchanted by her, and answered every question she posed in great detail. She was delightfully curious about everything, particularly the personality and antics of Canaith as a child. Her prompting, her smiles, and her kind consideration made Meara the center of the entire room.

Drakon was amused by the interactions between Canaith and Meara. Canaith was a man of few words, almost to a socially awkward fault. Meara, however, was the entertainer, and her skillful crafting of the conversation somehow changed Canaith’s awkwardness into silent strength. Canaith deferred to Meara’s conversational leadership while Meara deferred to Canaith’s organizational leadership. Drakon was taken back at how in step his hosts seemed to be. It seemed to Drakon that they were reading each other’s minds.

Finally, and quite abruptly, Meara stood up and moved to the door, which had spun open by the time she reached it.

“You have passed, Elder Drakon,” she said, having replaced her pleasant conversational personality with the professional aura he had seen when they first met. “We are convinced that you are, indeed, who you say you are.”

Drakon, just a bit confused, looked at Canaith, who was looking back at him and nodding.

“I am pleased that my Captain has been able to find you with my aid,” she continued, “and will now take my leave of you.”

She gave Canaith one final parting smile and nod, and just like that, she was gone. The doors immediately spun closed, leaving Drakon and Canaith alone in the room.

“I am not sure that I understand what just happened,” Drakon said tentatively.

Canaith let out a quiet chuckle, a smile deepening the creases along his eyes. “Meara has just vetted you, my friend. Every word she charmed out of you was compared to my memories. Every emotional reaction and impulse was measured and interpreted. Even now, I suspect she is verifying there are no communication signals entering or leaving this chamber.”

Drakon’s eyes grew concerned. “Canaith, what is all this? What is it you could possibly need from me that requires such elaborate security? Who am I that anyone should have anything to fear from me?”

Canaith rose and picked up an elaborate wooden box that Drakon had seen decorating the cookie-bearing table. He set the box in front of Drakon and gestured for him to open it. When Drakon did so, he found a metal circlet. He recognized the device immediately, as it was a device used for teaching. It allowed interactive learning sessions that could interact with the user’s memories and an advanced AI instructor.

Canaith gave a gesture indicating that he wished for Drakon to wear the device, and so he did. There were disks on either side of the circlet that Drakon knew to align to his temples.

Drakon noticed a reclining chair on a far wall. “May I?” he asked.

“Of course,” Canaith replied.

Drakon took a comfortable position on the chair and looked up to Canaith. “I have not done this in a very long time.”

“I hope you find it enjoyable,” Canaith answered.

Drakon closed his eyes and said “Calibrate… calibrate… calibrate.”

To Drakon’s mind, he was standing in an empty room with white walls. Before his vision, he saw a series of instructions, all of which he obeyed.

Calibrating VR Device…

Look to the left

Look to the right

Look up

Look down

Clasp your hands

Device calibration complete.

Auto-starting session 1…

Drakon was seated in a plush armchair in what appeared to be an observation deck on board a moving ship. Everything in the space was designed to be interesting. The room was a work of art. Drakon was alone, and not knowing what else to do, he explored the room. The most obvious feature was a window that ran the length of the room that looked out into a sea of stars. There was an area for playing chess. There was a bar with shelves decorated by expensive-looking decanters. There were no doors. The room was its own tiny universe.

Canaith appeared a handful of minutes later, looking just as he had in person. He took a seat near the chess board and started setting up the pieces. Drakon sat in the opposing chair.

“Alright, Canaith,” Drakon said in a fatherly voice. “Can you tell me now what this is all about?”

“Drakon, my friend,” Canaith answered, “You were always such a help to me when I was young. Many of my spiritual ideas were influenced by your wisdom and your kindness.”

“You are very kind, Canaith.”

Canaith continued, “Yet in these last few weeks, I have come to a place of confusion. After years of dedication to my path and purpose, I have found myself feeling… lost.” He looked up into Drakon’s eyes, apparently having run out of words.

“And what can I do to help you?” Drakon asked.

“I would like to go on a pilgrimage of sorts, and I am interested in your counsel.”

“But of course, Canaith!” Drakon stammered, excited. “I am happy to assist you in anything.” To Drakon, who had felt cast aside for many years, Canaith’s request sounded like a summons to a purpose.

“There is a catch,” Canaith answered. He stood from the table and went to stand by the window.

“I need your wisdom,” he continued, “but not your participation.”

Drakon felt confused, as his facial expression conveyed.

“There are matters I seek to discuss that are too sensitive for the Priesthood’s ears,” Canaith said. “They are not matters of heresy, but neither are they ideas that express themselves at the core of orthodoxy.”

“As I recall, your perspective was such even when you were young, Canaith.”

“As were yours, Drakon.” Canaith smiled at Drakon, and the priest smiled back. “That is why it is from you that I seek counsel.”

“I am your friend, Canaith, but I am also a Priest. My caste does not know privacy, and I cannot and will not put myself in a position to keep secrets from Amarr.”

Canaith smiled reassuringly. “Never would I ask you to do so.”

“Then what…,” Drakon posed, “…what is it that you are asking of me?”

“I wish to take an image of your mind that I will use to craft an AI. This AI and I will go on a pilgrimage together. It will be mostly you, but you will have no knowledge of our conversations.”

Drakon was not surprised at the idea, because this was a common means of imparting theological truth. Canaith was asking for something akin to an interactive study guide. These had been available from the clergy for generations, though normally the interactions were recorded and sent back to the priesthood.

Canaith looked into Drakon’s eyes and suddenly, surprisingly, Drakon felt a wave of yearning… gratitude… and great hope. It was as if Drakon was feeling these things himself.

“Canaith,” Drakon spoke when the shock had passed, “Even my knowledge that you were doing such a thing would be known by those within my Order. Your idea would not protect you.”

“Yes, it will,” Canaith answered. “If you agree, your mental image will be taken and your memory of this conversation will be replaced with something more casual. You will leave thinking that you have simply been reunited with an old friend who wanted to take you on a recreational journey through our shared memories.”

Drakon stared for several seconds. “You ask a lot of a Priest of Amarr, Canaith.”

“I am hoping,” he answered, “that this is little to ask of a dear friend.”

Drakon’s shoulders relaxed and his smile returned to his face. “For you, Canaith Lydian, I find I would do much more than this, but you knew that already, did you not?”

“I had hoped, my friend.” Canaith answered with emotion in his eyes. He sent another wave of emotion, this time it was endearing respect… gratitude.

Drakon looked up to see that he had one cookie left on his plate. It had been so kind of Canaith to take him to a memory of this restaurant. He and Canaith had eaten here dozens of times as Canaith was growing up. Everything in this VR session looked just as he remembered it.

“And I was grounded for weeks after that!” Canaith laughed, continuing their reminiscing.

“Well,” Drakon chuckled, “you should not have called the minister’s daughter fat!”

“Would it have been more correct to say she was ‘big boned’?”

“Then, Canaith, I fear you would have been lying.”

Both Canaith and Drakon laughed, leaving Drakon feeling grateful for such a carefree afternoon.

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A Job Offer

When the session ended, Drakon looked up from his recliner to find Meara Natinde in the room with him. Canaith was no longer present.

“Elder Drakon,” Meara said, “Would you accept an invitation to stay aboard the Radiant Spirit as a guest? Canaith and I are traveling to Bleak Lands to return to the war, but you are free to remain here as long as you like.

Drakon stood from his chair and looked at his feet.

“I would not want to be in the way,” he said.

“To the contrary,” Meara said, washing the room in her countenance, “We would appreciate your assistance as a priest. We have many devout Amarrians who would have no end to their need for you. Canaith has conveyed that he would be forever grateful if you would take an audit of our operations and suggest corrections and improvements.”

Drakon looked up in disbelief. It had been a long time since he had been treated as one who could fulfill a purpose.

“Canaith holds you in the deepest regard, Father. He would appreciate the chance for your relationships to be re-established. He appreciates your perspective.”

She walked up and placed a hand on his shoulder, which in most social settings would have been considered rude. To Drakon, it felt like an honor.

“Certainly,” she continued, her smile a source of light in the room, “you did not think he brought you here just to talk about old times?”

Drakon checked his digital calendar, more out of habit than anything else. It was empty, of course.

“It would be my privilege,” he answered.

“The men outside will show you to your rooms, and our clerk will contact you shortly to work out the details.”

As Drakon was led to his suite, he contacted his superiors to request a leave of absence. They had already been contacted by Meara Natinde, and at her insistence, his reassignment paperwork had already been submitted.

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Back in the War Zone

A few days later, Canaith and Meara jumped into clones they had in Clone Services facilities in the system of Huola. When Canaith connected to EDICT Alliance comms to make it known and he was back and available for service, he saw that the operations of EDICT had shifted focus. EDICT had managed to take many systems from the Minmatar in what the Militia referred to as the “North”. Their accomplishment was impressive.

Over the next several days, Canaith participated in the fleets, but he always held himself back. Gone was his dedication to an objective, that single-minded fight that had put him at the top of the killboards during the siege of Auga. He made himself an occasional presence in the war, running operations with Meara to destroy Minmatar supply depots and occasionally working with EDICT in their operations against the Minmatar. But the bulk of Canaith’s time was devoted to coding the AI and virtual environments he had decided he needed to help him recover his motivation.

He dubbed this massive VR undertaking the Pilgrimage, a simulation designed to connect him to the wisdom of his old friend, Father Drakon. The ultimate goal of this project was to unravel the struggles plaguing Canaith, helping him find answers through this virtual communion. The idea, to Canaith, was absurd, but he could not imagine a better alternative.

What Canaith crafted was not a true AI, but a memory-parsing algorithm meticulously designed to replicate Drakon’s personality and thoughts. Canaith and Drakon had a long history, and the two of them had a philosophical connection that had meant much to Canaith in his youth. Desiring to reconnect with the wisdom of his only spiritual counselor, Canaith chose to code this simulation, protecting Drakon from the scrutiny that might accompany his direct involvement. Many of the topics Canaith needed to discuss fell outside the realm of sanctioned speech, and involving Drakon in such conversations could jeopardize his standing with those he served.

Canaith recognized the irony in his attempt to seek assistance from the Amarr Priesthood while circumventing the traditional system of priests. His aim was to bypass the bureaucratic hurdles and acquire something more substantial than the sanctioned views typically disseminated through public channels. He was aware that the conventional avenues held no answers; he had previously pursued them to no avail. Amarr Theology showed reluctance to delve into profound questions regarding Capsuleers, and its political silence left a theological void. In Amarr culture, much like in any authoritarian society, the absence of an official stance rendered unofficial positions socially irrelevant. To the Amarr, the questions Canaith sought to ask would be dismissed as nonsensical, as the Social Order had not granted them any credibility whatsoever.

When needed, Canaith routed questions regarding the counseling methods and materials of Amarr priests to Meara, who then integrated Canaith’s questions to Drakon into the regular communications she was having with the priest about his audit of Canaith’s theocratic bureaucracies. Without realizing it, Drakon had become a design consultant for a simulation of himself.

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Relocation

Cyrelle Aurilen, the CEO of Task Force 641 and the leader of EDICT Alliance, had communicated a change of operational focus and a move of the Alliance’s headquarters. Meara read the announcement and, after receiving confirmation from Canaith, began to manage the reallocation of their resources.

The move was not as disruptive to Canaith and Meara as it would have been had their return to the War Zone not been so recent. Even so, there was a lot of work to do. Most of the time Canaith and Meara spent in space over the next few days was just relocating ships.

Meara was happy with the work, for her duty list had remained empty since their return to the War Zone. Canaith had yet to establish any discernible routine for either of them. Despite being back for several days, Canaith had yet to decide upon their mission in the war, and Meara had been surprised that he seemed to be in no hurry to do so. Although he made sporadic appearances, his focus seemed dedicated to what he cryptically referred to as his Pilgrimage.

There were times when Meara and Canaith flew together, but more and more often, it was Meara taking the lead in initiating their sorties. Aware that Canaith’s mind was preoccupied with his mystery project, she took it upon herself to ensure the steady flow of income and logistics for Canaith’s wartime endeavors. To Meara, her dear friend was limping, and she was compelled to bear any amount of weight to keep him from falling.

“Canaith,” Meara thought, “I know you are seeking to find your purpose. I hope you at least know that your Meara is still very sure of hers.”

She sent an empty message to Canaith, wrapped in an emotional wrapper of unwavering support and respect. These empty messages had become increasingly common in the last few weeks. It had become a way to express their feelings for each other during a time when words were hard to find.

After a few seconds, she received sincerest gratitude and affection. A few seconds after that, she received a message that read, “Thank you, My Dearest Meara.”

As she sailed through the vast expanse of space, light years away from Canaith, those words – and the sincerity of them – demonstrated how close the two of them remained.

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The Pilgrimage

After several days of preparation, Canaith was ready to embark on his virtual Pilgrimage. Truth be told, the AI and environment had been ready two days ago, but his mind had conjured a series of “extras” that were excuses to postpone the commencement of his quest.

With a thought, he interacted with the new program he had been writing and brought up its launch menu. His mental User Interface showed him a menu option labeled Start Session. He hesitated for a few seconds, but then decided it was silly of him to keep putting it off, and willed the selection of the menu option. He recognized the familiar effects of his mind receiving the loaded program.

He found himself standing in a grand, traditional hallway reminiscent of those in a ministry building, akin to the hallways that adorned a Theology Council Cathedral. Illuminated by flickering candles, the resulting semi-darkness evoked memories of Liturgy and politics, two realms intricately entwined in Amarr tradition.

Canaith was not in uniform, but wore the traditional clothing of a student. He walked until he came to an ornate door, where he gently knocked. The door clicked and opened slightly.

“Come in, come in…” came a familiar friendly voice from beyond the door.

Canaith opened the door and entered a facsimile of Father Drakon’s personal office that he had used years ago. The priest was seated at his desk, and he looked just as he had all those years ago. Seeing Drakon look this way brought a flood of memories to Canaith.

“Canaith, my boy!” explained the priest AI in a kind and happy voice. He stood and came around the desk and grabbed Canaith by the shoulders. “I have been excited ever since I learned that you were coming!”

Canaith relished this chance to reminisce about Drakon, the most amiable priest he had ever encountered. Drakon embodied a “teddy-bear” version of an Amarr priest, a quality that had likely cost him any aspirations for a prominent position among Amarr’s bearacracy. It was choices like these, where Drakon willingly set aside personal ambitions for a higher virtue, that had drawn a young Canaith to the man.

“It is very good to see you, Father,” Canaith said, meaning the words more than he had anticipated. “I am here because I find myself in need of your counsel.”

“But of course, Canaith!” Drakon stammered, excited. “I am happy to assist you in anything.”

“First, I am sending you a clearance to grant me legal privacy for the things that we discuss.”

Drakon-AI tapped a button on the desk console, and a whistle escaped him as he perused the notification. It referenced a proclamation from the Ministry of Internal Security that granted the right for Canaith’s conversations to remain confidential between him and Drakon. In the real world, such a proclamation would have been impossible for Canaith to acquire. Canaith had added this to the simulation to enable the simulation’s counsel to remain uninfluenced by Khorak’s concern over scrutiny. Canaith did not just want to hear what Drakon was supposed to say.

“These clearances are not easy to get, Canaith,” Drakon-AI said. “What in the world have you been up to?”

“It’s not about what I do, Father. It’s about who I know.”

The two of them smiled and the room became awkwardly silent. Canaith found himself wishing that Meara was here. With Meara, there were no awkward silences.

“Okay, then, Canaith,” Drakon-AI said, his voice resuming its amicable quality. “What advice would someone like you require from an old man like me?”

Canaith winced at the idea that the man who had meant so much to Canaith had come to think so little of himself near the end of his life.

“I require a personal pilgrimage,” Canaith said, taking on a more serious tone. ”I am asking for one-on-one counseling for a few days, and am hoping you can help me find myself again.”

“Find yourself?” Drakon asked. “What do you mean?”

“For the first time in my life as a Capsuleer, I find myself stripped of conviction,” Canaith declared, his voice heavy with uncertainty. “Though I’ve always trodden a straight path, I find myself unsure of where to place my next step. I do not know how to exist with so little motivation.”

“Though I am pained to find you in this state, you have honored me with this request,” Drakon said. “I will do my utmost to assist you in any way that I can.”

“It is no less than you have done for me countless times before.” Canaith said with certainty.

Drakon opened a drawer on his desk and pulled out an ornate box. Within it were two metal circlets.

“I do not get to use these particular devices very often,” Drakon said. “What we share while using these devices will not be recorded or transmitted in any way.”

Canaith smiled. “Then, my good friend, may we get started?”

Drakon and Canaith both donned a circlet. Canaith resisted the temptation to overthink the idea that a virtual simulation of Elder Drakon was taking him into a virtual simulation. The mind-blowing nature of a simulation of a simulation was immersion-breaking, so he put it out of his mind.

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We are Ghosts. We are Wraiths

Canaith found himself sitting in his father’s study. Looking at his hands, he determined he was probably 8 or 9 years old.

“Boy!” came a shout that caused Canaith to flinch. He recognized the voice. He despised that voice. It was the voice of “Sir”, Canaith’s father.

“Did you hear me?” Sir continued. “You have to listen to what I am saying. Do not be concerned about what you really think or feel. You tell people what they expect you to say and you pretend to feel what they expect you to feel. This is how it is done.”

Canaith wanted to rebuke his father, but this was a memory, not a play. What he wanted to say were not the words he spoke. Instead, he watched as the young version of himself said, “But I really believe what they want me to believe, Father. I believe what the Emperor says. I do not have to hide my thoughts because they are Amarr’s thoughts.”

Sir looked at his son as if trying to detect a lie.

“One day,” he hissed, “for your own good, you will have to shed this simplistic view of the world.”

“But why?” Canaith whined.

Sir reached over to slap Canaith across the face. The blow missed, and cuffed Canaith across his eye instead.

“We are the Ministry, Canaith. We cannot afford to be idealistic drones. We have to appear to be idealistic drones, even zealots, but we have to operate apart from the others. We are ghosts. We are wraiths!”

Young Canaith stared at his father, his right eye already starting to swell.

The memory froze.

“At the time, I thought my father was a raving madman for saying such a thing. Seeing this now,” Canaith mused, “I see what he was trying to tell me. Yes, his use of those words…”

“If I was going to speak to you as a priest, this is where I would tell you that he is attempting to encourage Inner Dissonance.”

Canaith was acquainted with the term, which encapsulated the theological perspective on what was colloquially known as one’s Imperial Face. A substantial portion of the Amarr recognized the imperative of displaying outward obedience even in the absence of a complete alignment of the mind. This phenomenon resulted in a psychological duality, wherein individuals effectively thought of themselves as two people: the public persona and the private self. Canaith’s long-standing conclusion was that a fundamental challenge of the Amarr Priesthood was to get the individuals to align those two versions of the person.

“And if you were not going to speak to me as a priest?” he asked.

“I would have to tell a friend that It is unfortunate that most people, even those of high station, have learned to function in the way your father encouraged,” Drakon-AI sighed. “The Law can get outward compliance, but…”

“…everyone must choose who they really are.” Canaith completed the thought because he had heard it before. He and the real Drakon had discussed this many times.

“Why have you brought us to this memory?” Canaith asked.

“Because this moment has significance,” Drakon-AI said. “It changed your course. If you are lost, the journey to find yourself will have a connection here. I ask you to meditate on this before we meet again.”

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Crimson Harvest

Meara was flying a covert operations ship called From the Shadows, and was exploring systems in hope of finding hidden data caches that belonged to Blood Raider Pirates. These caches were a consequence of yet another clash between the Blood Raiders and Tetrimon Zealots that seemed to happen every year. Meara had not paid much attention to the politics of the struggle. What she was paying attention to was the money to be made by hacking these caches and making off with the treasures to be found within them.

While hacking pirate data sites wasn’t normally on her list of duties, the lucrative returns it provided made it an irresistible way to invest her time while she waited for Canaith to decide what their objective should be. Her friend had always been leading their charge towards the next objective, and the absence of an objective from Canaith left Meara to come up with her own.

Meara’s curiosity about her dearest friend’s thoughts grew with each passing day. Ever since Canaith had decided to take a break from the war, his actions had been a series of unexpected twists. The Canaith she knew, her steadfast rock and unwavering pursuer of purpose, had transformed into someone increasingly impulsive, unpredictable and even passive. She was curious to understand the reason for the change, but her elusive friend skillfully sidestepped every attempt she made to find an answer. His evasiveness only served to increase her curiosity.

So in the absence of Canaith’s direction, Meara poured her time into various revenue-generating ventures. Whether it was selling essentials like ammunition and drones in Amarr, transporting blueprints to Jita for manufacturing and trade, aiding the Militia in the Advantage War, or exploring for pirate data sites, her efforts served only to raise funds. Her wish was for Canaith’s spirit to reignite soon, because supporting Canaith’s objectives served more than just their wallets.

Meara’s eyes widened as the results of her latest scan of the Eszur system were displayed. She had found a Level IV Data Site belonging to a pirate faction known as the Crimson Harvest. This was a lucrative opportunity, promising a haul of over two-hundred million ISK. Yet, there was a catch—the system was teeming with unidentified pilots. They, too, would undoubtedly be seeking that very site, if they hadn’t located it already. Meara sighed, fully aware that she would have to take the risk and attempt the site, for the regret of passing it by would otherwise haunt her for days.

“At least my cargohold is empty,” she thought, thinking that if she was found and her ship destroyed, her loss would be minimal.

She warped to within 20 kilometers of the site and was thrilled to see no ship in the area. She uncloaked and engaged her microwarp drive, speeding towards the center of three structures. The slang term for these structures was “can”. They were secure warehouses that contained the loot for which she had been hunting.

She targeted each of the three “cans” and did a cargo scan, finding one warehouse in particular with cargo valuable enough to make her gasp. Making a beeline to her target, she activated the hacking device she used to connect to the warehouse’s security system.

“This is going to be great,” she thought, hurrying as fast as she could.

In an instant, two ships materialized a few kilometers away, having disabled their cloaking devices. Despite her swift attempt to escape, a warp disruptor locked onto her ship, sealing its fate. The duo of ships comprised a stealth bomber and the formidable Tengu. Escape was not possible, and within seconds her ship succumbed to a barrage of destruction. Meara’s Pod just managed to warp away, which spared her the expense of the training implants she had injected into her current clone.

Meara just laughed at the consequence of the risk she had taken. Her Anathema had no crew, so the only loss was the fifty million ISK she would have to spend to get a new ship. She had already made more than twenty times that much in the last few days’ exploring.

Minutes later, as she docked in EDICT Alliance’s new home station, she received a notification of a contract that awaited her attention. Moonbeam, Canaith and Meara’s trading partner in Jita, had just contracted her three more fully fit Anathema vessels. A message attached to the contract read “From our mutual friend,” which could only be referring to Canaith.

Meara knew Canaith well enough to understand the hidden message conveyed by the purchasing of the new ships. He was letting her know that she was on his mind.

She called up a mental message for Canaith, and all she sent was an empty message wrapped in gratitude. All she received in return was a wrapping of fond appreciation. Meara laughed at the realization that through his thoughtfulness and attention, Canaith was only making her want to lose more ships.

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Very enjoyable read Canaith, keep it up mate.

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An Honorable Sacrifice

Canaith looked at the strategic map of the Warzone. Systems were being conquered by Minmatar at an incredible pace. The area in the north that EDICT had fought so diligently to claim had been retaken. The central regions, including Seciede and Vard, were close to falling, in spite of an order given by Cyrelle for EDICT to defend them. Kormonen and even Houla, the system in the war zone closest to the Amarr homeworld, seemed likely to fall. At this rate, it appeared that the entire warzone would soon be lost. Yet, Canaith felt nothing except the guilt that came from feeling nothing.

His initial interaction with Drakon-AI had been disappointing. The experience appeared overly simplistic and routine, lacking the depth necessary to awaken Canaith’s spirit. Canaith harbored a desire for substantive discourse with his mentor, and he did not see how wasting time delving into old conflicts with his father could help.

Canaith found himself fatigued by a persistent weariness, a condition that seemed impervious to the respite of rest. The remaining beacon of light in his life was Meara, yet from her he maintained a cautious distance, lest he expose her to the contagion of his malaise or undermine her endurance by revealing the extent of his plight.

Left with no alternatives, he found himself resigned to persist in his Pilgrimage. The efforts to build it had depleted the remnants of his resolve, so all that was left was to cling to the hope that it would yet save him.

The next session started, and Canaith found himself within a memory of working on mathematics at a worktable next to his sister, Krysta. By the look of her, she was approaching her teenage years. She still had her red hair styled in the manner of a child. Canaith was 3 years her senior.

They were working together, and as Canaith watched the scene play out, he noticed little ways that Krysta demonstrated how much her older brother’s presence and praise meant to her. He had never really noticed that when he was young.

Scenes of his memories of Krysta started flashing by, and in all of them the same affection Krysta held for Canaith was apparent. As each scene changed, the two of them seemed to grow older before his eyes. Finally, the memory froze in a scene where a young adult version of Canaith was consoling his sister, who by this time was all grown up herself. She had a fearful look on her face, and it was apparent she had been crying.

“I cannot do it, Canaith!” the memory of Krysta cried. “Whenever I try, I cannot think or function. Father will consider me a coward, and our family obligation will not be fulfilled. What am I to do?”

The memory froze.

“I think of this day often,” Canaith said.

“What is wrong with her?” Drakon-AI asked.

“Our family held some political obligation to the Ministry of Internal Order. To this day I do not understand why, but father was obligated to provide a capsuleer from our family to fulfill a mission contract for one year. Krysta was raised from childhood to fulfill this obligation.”

“Why not you?” Drakon asked.

“I was being raised to work for the Ministry, but not as a Capsuleer.” Canaith answered.

“Yes,” Drakon answered dryly, “but why?”

Canaith stopped to consider the question. “I am not sure.”

“You have a memory that might help… here it is.”

The scene before them changed. Canaith was in a room talking to Sir, his father. Sir did not look happy.

“But Sir,” the young Canaith said, with just a hint of defiance, “she has no desire to become a Capsuleer. She struggles to pass the tests and seems close to breaking every minute. I fear she does not have the will to see it through!”

Sir looked frustrated. “Then you had best help her manage. She only has to manage for a few more months.”

“A few more months of training and then what?” Canaith’s defiance was more on the surface now. “Sir, let me do it in her stead. We could lose her.”

Sir sat up straighter, his eyes an icy stare. “What else do you think will happen, Canaith, once she becomes a Capsuleer? Do you honestly think that she will not be lost already as soon as they kill her and then turn her into… whatever it is she will become?”

“What?” Canaith asked in surprise. “What in the world do you mean?”

“Your sister, like all Capsuleers, will die, Canaith, and then she will be reconstructed into some technologically created husk, a flesh-covered abomination that society will endure because we need Capsuleers to manage the vastness of space.”

There was a silence as Sir waited for Canaith to comprehend what had just been said.

“You believe this,” Canaith said, “And yet you will still put Krysta through it?”

Sir flashed a look of regret, but his icy countenance chilled it out of him but a moment later. “We must send someone, which is a point that I have made quite clear. It shall be Krysta, Canaith, because yours is to be a higher purpose.”

The scene changed back to the memory of Krysta revealing her panic to Canaith.

“So, what happened?” Drakon-AI asked. “Did your sister become a Capsuleer?”

“Yes,” Canaith answered.

The scene before them changed to a memory of a ritual – Krysta’s First Death.

“Krysta found the courage to follow through. She told me that it was for my sake. I believe that Sir convinced her to go through with it by telling her that she was sparing me.”

“That seems a heavy burden,” Drakon-AI said gently.

“A few days later,” Canaith whispered. “I received word from the Ministry that Krysta was refusing her obligation. Combat terrified her, even against Rats.”

“Rats?” queried Drakon.

“Capsuleers use that term to refer to ships piloted by non-capsuleers. Krysta is terrified, even of them. She can pilot, but she will not fight.”

“What did you do?” Drakon asked.

“I had been trained with her as a part of the Obligation,” Canaith said, “as back-up. I had been tested. Two months later, I met her part of the obligation by taking her place.”

“And your father?”

“He did not know until I completed my first mission for the Ministry.”

“And when he found out? What happened then?”

“We have not spoken since,” Canaith said. “His foolish manipulations ended up killing both of his children.”

There was a prolonged silence.

“Why are we here, seeing this?” Canaith asked, his frustration apparent. “How does this lead to an answer? You have not asked me anything about the present, so what do you seek in my past?”

“Me?” Drakon-AI said. “I have not brought us here. You have. Perhaps some time in reflection might help you understand why.”

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Event Planning

Meara had been in a string of conversations with all manner of bureaucrats from planetary governments across three systems in the War Zone. The negotiations had been endless, but it did look as though an arrangement had finally been reached. Meara was starting four business operations. She was just dipping her toes in to start, creating an interplanetary system of factories that would produce Construction Blocks.

Compared to her other enterprises, this new business would not be a lucrative venture, but other than occasional meetings and some light hauling, the income would not require much of her attention. She was hoping it would become something someday, and Canaith had agreed to assist her within a few weeks. Once he started helping, she hoped to generate a passive income of about thirty-million ISK per day.

Another reason for her decision to grow passive income was some concern over the state of the War Zone. Meara’s ability to earn resources there had been inhibited by the Amarr Militia’s lack of engagement in the war. The rumors had been flying, but Meara had no idea which were true. Regardless, the Amarr Militia had essentially decided to let the Minmatar have everything. Whether this was a decision from the top or a widespread lack of interest within the rank and file, the effect was the same: the Minmatar were conquering everything.

Just then, a trade request opened. It was from Canaith. She watched as several dozen blueprints for Amarr faction ships were added. She accepted the trade and sent an order for the blueprints to be transferred to her Covert Ops Hauler, Noble Purpose.

It was time for some errand running in high-security space, both to sell the information she had hacked from pirate data sites and to ferry blueprints to Jita. She normally had a party aboard her luxury yacht, Eternal Wind, on these trips. She used the parties as public relations events to promote Canaith’s accomplishments and vision to the key crew members. As there were no current objectives or accomplishments to communicate, she failed to see how her normal routine would be particularly effective.

Then it occurred to her that there was a recent activity that had likely become a source of rumors among the crews of Canaith’s ships. At Canaith’s request, Father Drakon had been auditing the operations of Canaith’s fleet for religious orthodoxy. Perhaps it was time to hold an event for him to report his findings. With Meara’s guidance, the event could feed the rumor mill to Canaith’s advantage.

“It will also give me a chance to see what this man has been up to,” she thought.

She prepared a message for Canaith’s operations manager in Shuria and Father Drakon, being careful to defer to Canaith’s authority. Meara usually supported Canaith’s Imperial Face more diligently than he did. To Meara, it just came with the job.

Memorandum

To: Shollus Maccatianus, Aurelius Drakon

From: Meara Natinde

Subject: Congregation Aboard the Eternal Wind

Esteemed colleagues,

I trust this memorandum finds you well. I am writing to inform you of an upcoming congregation aboard the Eternal Wind, graciously sponsored by our esteemed Captain, Canaith Lydian. The event is scheduled to take place three days hence.

It is our fervent hope that this gathering serves as both a source of encouragement and a moment of worship. The primary focus will be on highlighting the outcomes of Father Drakon’s recent audit of our organizational operations.

Shallus, I kindly request your assistance in extending invitations to any Chaplains, Initiates, or Religious Officers in Canaith’s employ who may execute any improvements requested by the audit. I emphasize, however, that your invitations should be expressed in a manner designed to alleviate any potential concerns or apprehensions of those involved. Father Drakon has been diligent in keeping me abreast of the audit results, and his suggestions bear no intimidation or stern correction. Any adjustments will be minor, and we should collectively find encouragement in the prospect of being guided by such tender wisdom as the advice that has been presented.

Father Drakon, I trust that you will inform Shallus promptly of anything you need. He can provide any assistance you require. Following a brief introduction from me, the remainder of the evening is at your disposal. I have confidence that your wisdom and experience will inspire us all. Canaith would not entrust so much to you otherwise.

Both of you are undoubtedly cognizant of the positive influence this event can exert on those who have diligently dedicated their service to us.

Cordially Yours,

Meara Natinde

The message was sent as a blind carbon copy to Canaith, and Meara was looking forward to his reaction. As if on cue, Meara received a message.

“You always make me sound so wise,” Canaith’s message said.

“You have always been larger than life to me,” Meara replied. “How could I represent you as anything less?” Meara wrapped the message in amused… sassy.

“Those who listen to your words will find greater certainty in your charm than in my wisdom,” he stated, “and perhaps that is best, as it certainly is true.” The message was wrapped in admiration and appreciation.

If Meara had not been in her pod with her blood pressure controlled by all kinds of technology, she would have blushed. She had not heard a statement this… forward… since their trip to Sarum II.

“Oh, that trip was fun,” she thought.

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Canaith’s Invitation

When Canaith had suggested a trip planet-side, Meara had thought he was joking. They were sitting between their army of bodyguards at a table in their favorite restaurant in the Imperial Armaments Station in Ziona, and out of nowhere, he had made his query.

“What would you think about spending some time planetside somewhere?”, he had asked, as though it was a normal, everyday kind of question.

‘What?” Meara had answered, too stunned to actually process the question.

“I have been wondering what it might be like to wander around on the ground,” he had said, “held in place by natural gravity.”

“Is this a joke, Canaith?” she had asked, wishing they were communicating virtually so she could feel his emotional wrapper. “Are you serious?” Though she did not have the ability to send an emotional wrapper with spoken words, she did her best to represent the emotion of longing on her face. If he were serious, this would be quite an adventure.

Canaith merely nodded his head.

“Intriguing…” she interjected. “Is it not ironic that to those bound to terrestrial realms, our spacefaring existence appears so thrilling, while to me, the prospect of descending planetside seems so incredibly exciting?”

“Is that a ‘yes’, then?” he asked, a very endearing expression on his face that Meara interpreted as pleading.

“I must admit, Canaith Lydian,” she said with just a touch of sass, “that it is far easier to understand you when you are talking in my head instead of my ears.”

“Is that a ‘yes’”, came a message to her communicator, wrapped in a wrapper of pleading.

Surprise coursed through Meara once more. Canaith seldom surprised Meara, his unwavering dedication having the effect of a predictable consistency to his person. Meara would not have predicted this invitation throughout the life of a hundred clones.

“Canaith,” she uttered with a gentle warmth, her expression and posture becoming formally courteous, “your proposition is an offer of such novelty and kindness that I find myself without the power to resist it. I am compelled to go just to see what happens.”

Canaith smiled and bowed, respecting the posture and protocol she had used.

“I will have the arrangements made,” he had said.

Even now, her memory of the moment excited her. Life as a Capsuleer was exciting, and busy, and important, but it was also very routine. At times, Meara felt more like a machine than a person. This invitation from Canaith had offered a whisper of a promise of something new. There would have to be something different on the day beyond this journey he was planning. Meara had found herself wondering what that difference might be.

A tinge of melancholy enveloped Meara now, however, as she realized that the day after their adventure had come and gone, and the only change was what seemed a growing distance between them.

“No,” she acknowledged to herself, “we are not more distant. That is not fair. There just was not the change that I had hoped there might be.”

Meara started at that thought, checking to make sure it had not gone out in a message, or that her emotions had not been transmitted in a wrapper. Relieved to find her secret safe, Meara escaped her mood by busying herself with more tasks and plans.

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The Plot Thickens

Sirolan Lydian, known to everyone simply as “Sir”, was browsing the day’s intelligence reports as he sat sipping coffee in one of his favorite cafes. Something big was in the works within the Angel Cartel, and many agents in the Ministry of Internal Order were working hard to figure out exactly what it was. Some of the information was concerning enough to suggest that new threats would exist that could affect operations in High Security space. All New Eden governments were buzzing with activity.

Sir looked traditional, meticulous, and emotionless, but this was his Imperial Face. Internally, he was always planning his next maneuver.

“Excuse me, Sir,” a voice chimed in Sir’s mind. It was the voice of his automated assistant, Auria.

“Yes,” he replied.

“There is an alert from one of your trackers.”

“Who is the subject of this tracker?”

“Father Aurelius Drakon is the subject.”

“So, did the man finally die?”

“Negative,” the nearly human voice droned. “He has a temporary reassignment.”

“That’s unexpected,” Sir said. “What is this assignment?”

“He is conducting a voluntary audit of the shipboard operations of Canaith Lydian at the request of Meara Natinde.”

Sir almost gagged on a sip of coffee. He brought up the records to see how this could have happened. He found that Meara Natinde had made a request to an agent with whom Canaith had considerable standing, who in turn put in a word to an official with considerably more influence than the one Sir had coaxed into restricting the priest’s assignments. While doing his search, he saw that Canaith’s reputation and standing with the Ministry was, well, much higher than Sir had remembered.

Sir ground his teeth while he flagged the record and sent a message through a secure channel to a certain official that was supposed to manage the foot Sir had placed on Drakon’s neck.

“What is this about? How did this happen?”

After a few seconds, he received the reply, “It appears that Natinde called in a favor. I dare not interfere. The assignment is short and the request is completely in order. My interference would cause unnecessary questions.”

Sir thought for a few minutes before sending a message to his daughter.

“I need an update on your brother,” was all that it said.

He made a few system requests to bring up a report of recent missions that Canaith had run in support of the Ministry. The history showed a gap of almost a year without missions, but there had been a handful very recently. He made another request for a list of ships of battleship size or larger that had docked at the Ministry of Internal Order station in Shuria at the time these missions were turned in, and finally made a request to see the owner of those ships.

“Auria,” he said.

“I am ready,” the digital assistant replied.

“I need a report from all information sources that are available to the staff and crew of the Radiant Spirit, a Paladin owned by Canaith Lydian that operates in or near the Shuria system. I am looking for anything that indicates a rumor, operational orders, or personnel changes. Flag anything that makes reference to Father Aurelius Drakon.”

Sir did not like it when his plotting was thwarted, and it grated him especially that it had been his son who had done so.

After a few seconds, he received a message from Auria containing a list, most of which was useless. After running a few filters, Sir ended up with a short list of information that provided some helpful insight into what was going on with his son and this priest.

The information indicated that Canaith had taken a break from the Amarr-Minmatar war for several weeks, but had recently resumed operations. The report indicated that, at the request of Canaith Lydian, the priest was conducting an audit of shipboard operations.

Sir grumbled to himself, “What are you really doing, Canaith?”

Just as Sir was about to give up, he finally noticed something that would be helpful. In two days, there was to be an event aboard a ship owned by Meara Natinde. The event was to be Drakon’s communication of his audit results.

Sir allowed himself a smile as he put together a plan. The priest had been told to stay away from his son, and would learn the hard way that Sir was not a man to be ignored.

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The Good Old Days

In his next Pilgrimage session, Canaith found himself standing with Drakon-AI in the observation deck of a space station. Drakon started walking, and so Canaith followed him.

“So, have you been considering the memories we have seen so far?” Drakon-AI asked him.

“I have, but have not yet determined their importance.” Canaith answered.

“I see,” Drakon said, his hands clasped behind his back.

“Tell me,” he asked, “what happened after you became a capsuleer?”

“I started running missions for the Ministry of Internal Order in and around the Penirgman system,” Canaith answered. “Within a few days, I started to notice the same pilots in those systems, and we eventually started flying together. We were all new to being capsuleers, and quickly became friends.

It was not long until a capsuleer named Mobeus invited us to become part of the Blood Moon Enterprises corporation. A seasoned veteran, he assumed the mantle of mentor for all of us. Our experience was limited at that point, so his help was very welcome.

He taught us about mining and industry. He encouraged us to join Eve University fleets to learn combat. Eventually, however, he had to teach us about the real danger of being a capsuleer, even in High Security space."

“And what is that?” Drakon-AI asked.

“Other capsuleers,” Canaith answered. “First, we encountered what we called ‘can flippers’. These are capsuleers who seek kill rights against you by stealing your cargo, hoping that you will steal it back. Later, we experienced wars from other corporations. It seemed that there were a dozen criminals and scammers for every honorable capsuleer.”

“And what do these ‘can flippers’ and scammers seek to gain?”

“Only the thrill of destroying and scamming.” Canaith answered.

The two of them walked for a while, and then Canaith continued.

“When my obligation to the Ministry was over, Mobeus started telling us about a place where honorable capsuleers banded together. He said we would be welcome there.”

“And where was that?” Drakon-AI asked.

“The region of Providence,” Canaith answered. “A Capsuleer Alliance called Curitas Veritas Alliance, or CVA, was leading a coalition of capsuleers that had the vision of extending Amarrian culture and loyalty into null-security space. All corporations were welcome there, provided they obeyed the law and respected Amarr. ”

“I remember the stories,” Drakon-AI said.

“We formed a new corporation called Dominus Umbra and moved to a system in Providence called BK-4. With Mo’s help, we built stations and learned what it was like to live in null sec. When we were not earning our way, we were patrolling Providence to help keep it safe.”

“And was Providence what you hoped it would be?”

“It was. Being a part of CVA’s vision of Providence was really something. What CVA and its allies were doing made them heroes to me. There was something incredibly noble in their vision.”

“What do you think it was that made it seem noble to you?” Drakon asked, stopping to look Canaith in the eyes.”

“What CVA did in Providence was not a consequence of some legal obligation,” Canaith told him. “It was the result of an inward desire for true Unity. It was not corrupt. It was honest.”

Drakon-AI nodded and started walking again.

“A bit more than a year later, the members of Dominus Umbra had grown in skill, and some of us grew curious to use those skills in different ways. I was one of them. Some friends of mine invited me to join them in some adventures, and I foolishly followed them.

Within a couple of weeks, I found myself operating in Null Sec as little more than a pirate myself, forsaking the very things I had loved about Providence. It left a bad taste in my mouth from the start, and so I eventually left ESTARTES and found myself right in the middle of Minmatar space.

“I bet they loved you,” Drakon teased.

“Not hardly,” Canaith chuckled. “I had to run missions for them just to get enough standing for them to stop chasing me. Ironically, I think I was seeking penance for my piracy in the land of Amarr’s enemies.”

“Did you find redemption there, then?”

"No. I discovered that the Minmatar, in their cultural tapestry, weave a language that feigns freedom, yet the treatment of their own surpasses the harshness endured by Amarr slaves. In Minmatar reality, the strong subdue the weak, often for no reason beyond the base assertion of ‘because we can.’

So I made my way back to Providence, where Mobeus secured for me a posting within CVA.”

“So you became one of Providence’s heroes?”

“Not hardly,” Canaith laughed. “I was an outsider, and found it hard to find the friendship that had been the strength of Dominus Umbra. But I saw first hand the hard work that was required of CVA and its allies in Providence. They were true heroes, and it was an honor to fight alongside them.”

“Did your love of Providence change?”

Canaith stopped walking.

“To this day, the vision CVA held for Providence resonates within me, though it had been simpler to dwell in their shadow than to shoulder the burdens alongside them. The constant fighting brought with it weariness.”

“Why was there so much fighting?” Drakon-AI said.

“CVA was constantly plagued by those who disregarded their vision. As time went on, larger and larger capsuleer alliances used Providence as their training grounds. Nobody wanted Providence itself, for there are far better regions for resources. But the spirit of the wraith called to hordes of capsuleers who flew under the banner of ‘Violence is Entertainment’.”

“‘Spirit of the Wraith’?” Drakon-AI asked.

“That is the term I use for capsuleers who have fallen to the temptation for purposeless violence. They have cast off their honor like discarded skin and haunt the worlds like vengeful spirits.”

“That is quite a word-picture you have constructed,” Drakon said.

“I do not think of it as a metaphor,” Canaith said. “I think of them as malevolent spirits.”

“Why?”

“Because I have felt that call, Drakon.” Canaith said soberly. “I sat on gates waiting to ambush whatever ships jumped through. I made it my purpose to destroy for no other reason than to see the explosion.

That is not a story of one who is still alive. It is a horror story; a ghost story. Every person who has been brain-dumped into a clone has somehow opened themselves to some macabre dance, and far too many of us now pollute New Eden like a virus without a cure.”

“This is who you believe that you are, Canaith?”

“This is who I know I can become. I drive myself relentlessly in order to find some purpose that fulfills me, so that I am well-armed against this call of the wraith. I do not know the substance or nature of the source of the call, but I know that it knows my name.”

“And CVA’s vision for Providence is your purpose?”

“It was,” Canaith said, sadly, “but the vision died when CVA was defeated and had to leave Providence.”

“I see,” said Drakon as he started to walk again.

“In the latter days of Providence,” Canaith said, walking with Drakon, “my sister convinced me that I needed a helper. She coaxed me into finding an Assisting Lieutenant, a quest that led me to Meara Natinde.

Much of my time in the latter days of Providence was devoted to her training. She was adopted by my family and has become a surprising part of my purpose.”

“Interesting,” Drakon said. “How is she a part of your purpose?”

“I hope to spare Meara from the call of the wraith. It is the least that I can do.” Canaith said.

“So you are bearing the burden of two souls now?” Drakon asked.

Canaith crinkled his eyes as if attempting to interpret Drakon’s meaning. “Nothing about Meara Natinde is a burden.”

They walked for a handful of minutes in silence, until the silence became awkward.

“When CVA evacuated Providence, Meara and I docked our ships and took a break from space for a few years. It was a time in which I felt lost, so I retreated into a self-imposed stasis."

Drakon stopped walking.

"Then about a year ago,” Canaith said, “Meara spoke to me. She told me that she had found a new purpose for us serving in the Amarr Militia. And so I have served since, and Meara with me.”

The two started walking again, though to Canaith everywhere they walked looked exactly the same.

“Was she right?,” Drakon asked. “Is the Militia a suitable purpose?”

“It seemed to be,” Canaith said. “In many ways, the Warzone is a new manifestation of CVA’s Providence. Most of the Militia pilots are there to serve Amarr, and not because they have to, but because they want to. There is a purpose to the fighting there, and oh, Drakon, how I fought!

We were pushing and driving the Minmatar back. We liberated Huola and Kourmomen and pushed all the way to Auga. The fighting there is the fiercest fighting I have ever seen.”

“And did it bring with it the same weariness as the warfare in Providence?” Drakon asked.

“Not at first. We were fighting under a leader named Kinari who relentlessly pursued the objectives of the war. Pilots from all alliances were flying with him, and we came close to victory in Auga many times. The battles were constant and legendary.

But in the midst of that struggle, leaders among every Militia alliance seemed to grow restless. As if struck by some common disease of their will, all the alliances buckled at once. In spite of the resolve of the rank and file, our leadership had grown bored with the objectives of the Militia, and one by one they abandoned us to some petty drama or whimsical pursuit.”

“What did you do?”

“EDICT was reeling at the unexpected retirement of its leader, so I went and offered to lead the more committed of us to help Kinari reunite the Militia. I had some limited support, but an ambitious newcomer named Sinobi who had been foolishly appointed to leadership as a final act of our former leader, told me that he wanted EDICT pilots to fly with EDICT FC’s, and that any of my knights that flew with Kinari’s fleet would be forcefully retired.”

“So the unity you sought was counter to his goals?” Drakon asked.

Canaith stopped walking, and seemed to be considering the question. “Yes. As far as I was concerned, a Minmatar spy could have done no better for the Minmitar than what Sinobi wanted to accomplish. They outnumber us, and without unity, which should be a strength of the Amarr, we are wasting lives.”

“So, my friend, is that what has left you feeling that you have lost yourself?”

There was a pause as Canaith collected his thoughts.

“Not entirely,” he said. “The struggles in the Militia did lead me to want a rest from the war, but to understand what has broken me, I need to talk to you about Meara Natinde.”

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Traveling to Amarr

Reviewing the displays that relayed the status of the War Zone, Meara shook her head in response to the unfolding events. The Minmatar forces were advancing through nearly every star system, with even Arzad and Ezzara succumbing to their onslaught. Meara was not surprised, for such would be a consequence of the apparent slumber of the Amarr Militia. What did catch her off guard, however, was Canaith’s indifference to the situation.

Before their recent break, Canaith’s mind had been focused on the war as though it was woven into his being. The majority of their conversations had been about the war and their part in it. Whether it was fighting the advantage war, supporting ground troops in contested system, or fighting tooth and nail for Auga, Canaith’s focus had been constant and unwavering, and Meara had been excited to be a part of it. Now, however, though they were physically back from their break, Canaith’s spirit remained elsewhere.

As Meara’s Covert Hauler, the Noble Purpose, began its journey from Huola to Amarr, Meara found her mind drifting to thoughts about her trip planetside with Canaith. Just two days after Canaith had invited her to travel to a planet, he had come back with arrangements made to visit Sarum III. “We are going to be tourists,” he had said.

For Meara, the beginning of the trip had been surreal. She had not been planetside since leaving her own home, and the journey to the planet via a space elevator had brought back very old memories. She remembered how new every adventure had been as she left her home, but here she was, a veteran of many adventures, finding that all she wanted was some ground under her feet and a chance to feel normal for a while.

Once they were planetside, Meara had laughed to realize that normal was just not going to apply to a party of two Capsuleers and their small army of bodyguards, but after the first day, Canaith had managed to find a place to stay away from the crowds where they did not draw too much attention to themselves. Within a few days, they had secured an area around the cottage and left Canaith and Meara with very few attendants. Finally, Meara had felt “normal”.

The two of them had cooked normal food, hiked on real trails, shopped in normal food markets, and slept in normal beds. There were no uniforms or pods, and absolutely no concern about the War Zone, logistics, skill training, or ISK.

Canaith had remained true to his personality in his mannerisms, speech patterns, and courtesy. However, there had been a subtle shift in his behavior in that he paid such extravagant attention to her. She had noticed him stealing prolonged glances, yet he would quickly avert his gaze when she noticed—a behavior she had not observed in him before.

In all their years, the nature of their relationship had been extraordinarily close but undefined. Neither Canaith nor Meara had ever suggested anything romantic. Yet, Meara found herself wondering if such a thing might have been on his mind.

Meara had thought to find the answer to her question on the final morning of their trip. When Meara had risen, she had done so early to give herself time for a run before breakfast. The cottage was small and had but a single washroom. Meara remembered looking at herself in the mirror. She was still in her bedclothes and had chuckled at her mess of hair, blowing strands of it out of her face. Just then she turned to see Canaith standing in the hallway looking at her. He had also been in his bedclothes, looking like anyone would having just risen from slumber. There had been a few seconds that seemed an opportunity to be flirtatious, perhaps, or moderately forward. Meara had dared to hope that it would be an opportunity Canaith seized. Yet, he had simply nodded his head, said “excuse me”, and retreated down the hall.

Later that day, they had left earlier than had been planned. Meara had been tempted by disappointment but chose instead to be grateful. It had been, after all, a delightful time.

As Meara brought her mind back into the present, she felt a tinge of excitement at what might have happened had that morning moment gone differently. “Stop it, Meara!” she said to herself.

Once the Noble Purpose was docked at the Emperor’s Station in Amarr, she sent word that boarding was now available for the coming event on the Eternal Wind. They would leave in a couple of hours. Meara loaded her pod into her Yacht and began the process of transforming her appearance to that of a gracious hostess. For Meara, these events were a performance, so she started preparing her mind as well.

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It’s All About Meara

“So,” Drakon-AI said, “this is an interesting turn that I had not considered.”

Canaith bore a labored look. “What?”

“After everything,” Drakon-AI said, smiling playfully, “Canaith Lydian has lost himself over a woman?”

Canaith smiled, accepting Drakon’s attempt to lighten the mood. “I wish it were that simple,” he said.

“Tell me, then,” Drakon-AI said with the priest’s customary gentle expression. “What is it you want to tell me about Meara Natinde?”

“At the height of the drama with the Amarr Militia, after Sinobi revealed his ambition, I was at the end of my strength. I am not an overly dangerous pilot or a capsuleer of great reputation. My power is my dedication, and when my resolve is gone I am of little use.

There is a pattern of behavior for me that has been the same since I became a capsuleer. I find a purpose and devote myself to it completely until my strength is depleted. Then I retreat into my pod and rest, sometimes for years.”

“Why,” asked Drakon, “do you push so hard?”

“Devotion is how I resist the call of the wraith,” Canaith answered soberly.

“Canaith, it appears that you have constructed an entire theology around this ‘call of the wraith’.”

“I do not profess to comprehend it that thoroughly, but the call of the wraith is undeniably present. It has the power to divert the attention of countless pilots from an interest in the living world, leaving only the thrill of the fight. So, in defense of honor and what should be, I seek a Cause for which I can exert every ounce of my strength. My fervor for what is right serves to distract me from the allure of what is not.”

“And this works?” asked the priest.

“It does… until my strength is gone. Then I retreat into solitude until my strength returns and I may pursue a new purpose.”

The two of them fell silent, which gave Canaith’s words more gravity than he had intended. As he considered what he had said, he realized how broken and inhuman this pattern was.

“I was expecting,” Drakon finally said, “that we were talking about Meara.”

Canaith paused, trying to gather his nerves.

“There was something different between us over the past year, something that broke the pattern. We worked together more closely and shared more than just the completion of our objectives. We have always been close – our shared past assured it – but recently we have made each other feel… um…”

“Not dead?” Drakon offered.

“Yes,” Canaith answered and then smiled. “She has made me feel ‘not dead’.”

Drakon nodded and gave Canaith a gentle smile.

“When my strength was gone this time,” Canaith continued, “I wanted to break the cycle. I thought, maybe, that the two of us could try to pretend we were still alive.”

“What do you mean?” Drakon asked. “What did you do differently?”

“We left our pods for extended periods of time. We favored face-to-face encounters over virtual ones. We took a trip to a planet and felt ground under our feet for the first time since our first death.”

“That sounds like ‘living’ to me, Canaith,” Drakon said gently.

The scene changed and they watched a memory of Canaith and Meara seeing sites on a planet. There was a memory of the spectacle that their arrival on Sarum II had caused among the people. There was a memory of Canaith and Meara racing each other on an afternoon run. Meal preparation became a food fight. There was laughter, patience, and such mutual regard; but mostly, in Canaith’s memories, there was just Meara.

At last, there was a memory of Canaith rousing from sleep. He had heard something and risen from his bed to go see what it was. As he walked to the open door of the washroom, he looked in to see Meara standing there in front of a wash basin and mirror. Standing there as she was in her bed clothes, no makeup, and mussed up hair, her perfectly professional appearance was gone. She giggled at the mirror and blew hair out of her eyes. She had not yet noticed Canaith standing there.

The memory froze.

“She is so beautiful,” Canaith said. “Her spirit glows.”

“Is she not a Capsuleer also?” Drakon asked. “Is she not also ‘dead’?”

“Meara is not like other Capsuleers,” Canaith answered, “though it is hard to describe the difference. She is unshakable.”

The memory progressed, and Meara’s gaze lifted, discovering Canaith’s presence in the hall. A spectrum of expressions played across her face: initial surprise, followed by a hint of shyness, and then a subtle coyness as she was waiting for him to say or do something. In that fleeting moment, Canaith hesitated, leaning slightly forward before abruptly reversing course. He nodded, then left her standing there.

The memory rewinded to that brief moment that Canaith was moving towards her.

“What changed your mind, Canaith?” Drakon-AI asked.

A prolonged silence enveloped them as Canaith took in the scene, savoring the moment when he had contemplated kissing Meara.

"In the tapestry of my existence,” he said, “from the moments preceding my death to all those that have followed, nothing has held greater significance to me than Meara Natinde. Yet, I grapple with the paradox of wanting to be what I am not. I am deceased. I am, in the words of my father, a ‘flesh-covered abomination.’ Can a haunting spirit find solace in feigning life, or would such pretense be a denial of death, like a ghost obstinately refusing to pass away?

When I encounter people, Drakon, I am reminded of what has been forfeited," he reflected. "When I saw Meara standing before that mirror, radiating such vitality and approachability, it stirred within me a conflicting blend of joy and anguish. It was the first time that I have struggled to remain in her presence.”

“Explain,” Drakon said.

"In that moment, I dared to dream that my purpose might find fulfillment in Meara Natinde. Yet, what destiny awaits Meara if she were to become my purpose and my strength yet fail? Would it not be wicked to give her hope and then to crush her with my weakness? And if I failed and caused her pain, might that pain propel her towards the call of the wraith?

Can you imagine, Drakon, after having met my Meara, what a loss it would be were she to succumb to that dark voice?"

“Canaith,” said Drakon, in a very gentle voice, “can you summarize for me how you think this has broken you?”

“I am lost,” he confessed, “for I cannot return to the way things were nor see wisdom in moving forward. I am resolved, therefore, to nothing. Who am I without a purpose?”

There was a quiet pause. Surprisingly, Canaith felt relieved to have finally vocalized his burden so clearly.

“I now have what I need from you to provide you with counsel,” Drakon-AI said. “Give me a few hours, pray about what we have discussed, and I will attempt to unravel this knot for you.”

Canaith bowed respectfully and the session ended.

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Setting the Trap

Frazel was a server who had been working as staff aboard the Eternal Wind for almost a year. He was Minmatar, but had received a proper Amarr education and had been treated very well by the crew of the ship. He considered his posting to be a high honor. Serving aboard a luxury yacht was a grand assignment for anyone in his profession, and to have achieved it as a Minmatar in the middle of Amarr was something special indeed. Meara Natinde’s events aboard the ship were known to be spectacular, even for the crew, who often got to share a table with Meara Natinde herself. She had even waved at Frazel a few times.

Frazel did not know exactly how he had landed this posting. He did not even remember the set of circumstances leading him here. All he knew was that he was here, that he enjoyed his job and the people, and that he was mentally unable to speak to anyone about the mystery of his circumstances. Any attempt to do so, or any attempt to find out answers, resulted in a monstrous headache. So, instead of worrying about it, he just served as dutifully and joyfully as he could. Things could certainly be a lot worse.

Tonight was a big night. There was an event featuring a personal friend of Canaith Lydian, which meant this person would be a big deal to his captain, Meara Natinde. If something was a big deal to her, it was a big deal to the Eternal Wind, since the yacht’s constant mission was to demonstrate how important certain people were to Meara Natinde.

Frazel’s job tonight was to serve liquid refreshment during and after dinner. He was considered to be good at his job because he made quite a show of everything, and everyone appreciated the good-natured Minmatar waiter who gave them their alcohol while making polite jokes. Since tonight was a particularly religious event, Frazel had been told to tone things down, not because their events ever strayed into unorthodox behavior, but because tonight was all about demonstrating just how orthodox they all really were. So, for tonight only, they were toning things down. These were the kinds of things that made sense to Amarrians, and because Frazel had been properly educated, it made sense to him, too.

As Frazel straightened his vest and made sure he looked even more traditional than unusual – to demonstrate how traditional he always was – his ears started to ring. The ringing wasn’t particularly loud, but it startled him.

Suddenly, he was not Frazel the Minmatar server. His name was not important. He was a sleeper agent who had been planted aboard the Eternal Wind months ago, and his real employer had finally activated him.

He was aware of some new and important information.

  1. He was to assassinate a target using a poison capsule embedded in one of his molars.
  2. His target was a priest named Drakon Aurelius, the speaker at tonight’s event.
  3. He was to make the attempt while Meara Natinde was busy flying through the Low Security system of Ahbazon, which was notorious for gate campers but a usual part of the yacht’s cruises.
  4. After the poison had been delivered into Drakon’s beverage, he was to extract himself from the Eternal Wind via an escape pod on the lower decks.

He had learned from his training that a failure to obey any of these instructions would result in a very nasty headache, and that a failure of his mission would result in a painful death. X-Frazel did not know who his “employers” were, but he took them seriously, nonetheless.

X-Frazel saw a green light above the door of the crew dressing room that indicated everyone was to be in their places. Guests would be arriving soon. Under normal circumstances, X-Frazel might have been nervous, but tonight the implant in his brain was inhibiting that response. He was cold, still as night, and focused.

He started to walk down the corridors towards his station at a visitor center, and when he rounded a corner and saw none other than Meara Natinde herself. She was talking to a man X-Frazel recognized as one of her security forces. The man did not look dangerous tonight, but that was part of the illusion spun by the Eternal Wind and its crew. His captain noticed X-Frazel, smiled and waved. This simple act of kindness touched some faint remnant of him who had appreciated the attention in the past. He started to wave back, but some cybernetic wiring in his brain corrected his thinking, which disoriented him. X-Frazel kept his eyes on the floor in front of him and just kept walking.

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The Event Begins

Meara, now dressed and ready to play her part for tonight’s event, was talking over what appeared to be a potential security threat with her security chief. Canaith had stepped up the security on all of their vessels, both physical and technological, to compensate for some security breaches and sabotage over the last several months. It had felt odd at first to be constantly surrounded by armed guards and scanned at most every bulkhead, but it would be far more difficult for anyone to get away with much now.

“It was definitely an encoded signal, Meara,” the man said, his lack of formality an evidence of working with her for quite some time. “It was very small in size, and probably a data upload, with no reciprocating signals coming from the ship.”

Meara glanced up when she noticed some movement in her peripheral vision, and saw one of her wait staff coming towards her. She liked this man, a pleasant Minmatar, because he demonstrated to her many guests why the Minmatar could one day be integrated into Amarr society. That had been a promise made many generations ago, and Meara, like Canaith, was of the mind that promises should always be kept, especially ones from Amarr.

She offered a smile and a wave to the man, but his response was unusual—he simply ignored her. a surge of indignation flickered within her at his rudeness, but she swiftly dismissed the emotion. Her primary concern lay in the impression tonight’s events might leave on her guests. Her ego could be soothed later.

She turned her attention back to her security chief when he spoke to her. “I will have the ship’s modules reinstalled. We should run a test on the cloaking device and warp core stabilizer as soon as we undock.”

“You suspect sabotage?” she asked.

“I do not know,” he answered, “but we may as well be cautious. We will also continue monitoring the feed upon which we detected the unauthorized data.”

“Very good,” she said, dismissing him.

As Dhanaris walked away, Meara turned to watch Frazel just in time to see him turn a corner. She sent a message to the staff supervisor asking to have someone check in on him. If he was ill or out of sorts, they might need to keep him away from the guests.

As she made her way towards the guest receiving area, she felt a bit of uneasiness concerning tonight’s plans. Meara had been using the low-sec route to run blueprints to Jita from Amarr for a year now without incident, in spite of constant gate camps in the system of Ahbazon. Meara took pilot control of the Eternal Wind from her crew as a safety measure when entering that system. Escaping the gate camp was always an exciting part of the trip for her guests.

Recently, however, she had started questioning her usual practice. A growing sense of anxiety, still unfounded, made her feel like she might be pressing her luck. With a potential security threat looming and one of Canaith’s dearest friends on board, she found herself reconsidering the wisdom of navigating Ahbazon and its pirate risks on this trip.

“We are changing plans,” she sent in a message to her ship’s operations manager. “Tonight we will travel to Jita the long way around. Select the safest route possible through high-security space. Please let key personnel know of the change, but do not communicate it on insecure channels. This is for those who need to know, and no one else.”

Meara entered the receiving area just as the guests began to arrive. Administrators and lawyers from Canaith’s operations in Shuria, Amarr, and the Bleak Lands were engaged in conversation that exuded traditionalism in every possible manner.

A suppressed chuckle bubbled within Meara as she observed the scene. The irony was not lost on her — tonight, of all nights, called for the perfect presentation of every person’s Imperial Face. Their collective orthodoxy was under the watchful eye of their leader’s most favored priest. It was a night where everyone felt compelled to behave even more impeccably than usual, in order to demonstrate how impeccably they always conducted themselves.

There was some applause and bows as everyone celebrated the arrival of the guest of honor, Father Drakon Aurelius. He embodied the quintessence of a True Priest of Amarr, even if the attention he was getting seemed to catch him off guard.

To his right and left, attendants donned the iconic hooded robes that had become the hallmark of Canaith’s Ministry of Truth. Even though Canaith’s propaganda had taken a hiatus, those loyal to him had clung to the robes as a quirky nod to tradition. Their presence not only enhanced Drakon’s priestly appearance but also sent a clear message about the strong rapport he shared with Canaith. Meara had not orchestrated this, but she appreciated the guile of whomever had done so.

When she received a signal from the ship’s event coordinator that everyone was aboard, Meara gave the order for the ship to be underway. When she verified that her order had been received, she stepped into the middle of the room.

“Thank you,” she said, “each of you, for joining me this evening.”

There were bows all around as each person shifted their attention from the priest to their hostess. Her celebrity status as a Capsuleer along with her reputation made her proximity a rare experience for everyone. Canaith had often told her that the humility and grace she showed to non-capsuleers only served to increase their awe of her. Though she doubted that this was always true, she did understand that kindness was almost as rare as capsuleers.

“We will start our evening meal very soon. Each of you has an assigned place at a table. A server will be happy to assist you in locating yours. Please enjoy each other’s company and take the opportunity to introduce yourselves to Father Drakon. We will convene this evening’s program after dessert has been served.”

With a gesture inviting the crowd to follow, she directed their attention to the dining room, visible at the other side of a glass-domed promenade. As she turned to leave, her movement created a gentle swish of her skirts that captivated the onlookers. Smiles adorned the faces of many as their eyes traced her movement through the room, enamored by her poise and presence as she led them across the promenade.

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