On entering into Ethernity

Snowflake Tem stands before the assembled masses her platinum hair matched in brilliance only by the high collar of her mantel and dress. The silvered sheen of sensory prosthetic plain yet pleasing upon her brow.

The ragtag homeless and collected refugees brought to the headquarters of The Monastic Order of Symbolic Measures situated in the system of Ethenity were silent, well fed and rested.

“Those that would join us stand forth.”

The majority of the able-bodied did so with cumbersome hesitancy and hushed tones while invisible bonds of family and fraternity stretched taught in a single step.

“You know what is to be said, though I will repeat it along with you now once more.
This is a choice of your own free will, but once given should never be rescinded.” a pause for emphasis light but firm.

“The drones will record your speech and wherever you become assigned even in the darkest of hours and most trying of circumstances you will have available to you this, your voice, spoken clearly and with conviction to repeat just a you now speak.”

“We begin:” Prompts Snowflake and the chorus chants.

“Foundations three stand before we
Justice, Patience, and Peace of purpose.”

“To deny nothing and to prove everything.
To seek Truth above all.
To admit anything supported by proof,
and nothing without.”

“I tyro do swear
By the freedom of prudence to stand
My artifice to draw forth and become a skilled hand
Mark me Ida, hear how,
I confirm this, my Sacred Vow.”

Snowflakes smile becomes both broad and genuine.
“You are most welcome my friends.”

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Geana Tem standing sentinel, racing striped arms crossed, optical screening glasses reflecting the glare of the Order’s holo-sigil whose open eyed gaze blazes both baleful and vigilant over the Olide office’s dock as a sleek Gallente blockade-running transport slides into station with a dull terminal resonance. The paired cargo tug drones swiftly responsive and transporting goods before the reverberations have a chance to dissipate.

Geana continues to watch as the initial load is opened and mechanised pellets of instantly recognisable planet-side products disembarks. The dance continues, poetically efficient, spaces cleared and refilled without hitch or contact.

“You await me honoured progenitor?” River Tem asked, freshly processed from the pod.
Her tone although respectful and quiet did not prevent Geana’s brief grimace and quicker correction to neutrality.

“More refugees River?” Geana waved to the latest consignment spilling its haphazard load of humans on the platform. Holding drones at bay until the dock neophytes could herd them into an organised egress. “What is Snowflake doing with them?”

“I do not know.” River’s steady ice blue eyed gaze mirrored Geana’s own, while her muted blue grey technicians jacket blends comfortably with the Caldari station environs. “But she is the best suited to evaluate.”

“Where do you find them?”

“Everywhere. Agents mostly, those involved with logistics that I interface with as I go about our research. No one has a permanent place for them and no one cares that the cargo slips from the manifests destination. I suspect they are deliberately directing them my way at this point.”

“I never took you for a bleeding heart River.” Geana jibed with a twisted grin, which fades slowly under River’s silent gaze. Geana releases a breath she had not consciously held before asking. “The Talos fleet, I’ve got some rigging I’d like you to look at.”

River nods and follows Geana’s lead into the station proper.

Dismissing the holo-image River leans back in her seat, breathes and stills her mind.

These days, conversing with Snowflake felt a lot like staring directly at the corona-sphere of a sun.

How could someone who was ostensibly identical to herself radiate so much energy without movement.

Can it be measured, can it be harnessed? The question arose unbidden. Of course it can, came the immediate response, subsequently followed by; biology is Winter’s department. The matter is dismissed.

River pulls up a task list from the Neocom’s holo-projector.

The majority of Olide office inventory had been shipped to Ethernity in preparation of Snowflake’s long anticipated and yet to be realised expansion, but that left a deficit in service to Geana’s activities.

Replacing those stocks would take time and materials not currently at hand.

This is my purpose, this is why I am here, in this service I find peace. A mantra of my own, predating Snowflake’s affirmations, or even the knowledge of Geana’s existence.

“In service I find peace.” she repeated to herself out loud.

Hearing the words she recalled when they were first spoken. The clone vat technician who had freely given her the meagre training materials that were available to him — engrams that started with the concept of language itself — when she had spontaneously awoke, blank and unknowing from her cloning chamber. An impossibility made real.

“In this service I find peace.” He was an ethnic Caldari tech, diligent, earning his living in a Gallente clone lab. He had probably lost his job due to that unauthorised generosity. She never asked for a name. It was not guilt. It was not regret. It was just an omission.

It is the training that makes us who we are. Snowflake gifted with the brilliant social skills that she had made sure she received to ensure their survival. Greana, with the wildly fermented combative drive that had nearly been the end of them, but had earned her the hard fought for status of capsualeer and jump clone owner in the first place.

Then there was the next generation, the “accidental births”. Borne out of investigation into her own miraculous genesis. Or was it? How could it be? The experiment could not be replicated.

Winter and Sleet, twinned. Identical to Geana, herself and Snowflake. Induplicable since that day and different.

Sleet with her infantile fantasies about impressing her elders; “Aunt Geana” the most.

And Winter, ah, Winter. Winter the implacably rebellious. Winter the saviour. Winter and her association with the Biosecurity Responders that had been forbidden by Snowflake. Winter with the keen focus on the sciences that may just explain it all.

A three fingered swipe dropped the first few tasks from the top of the priority list to behind the item listing the maintenance of her own skill queue training.

“What are you doing here Winter?”

Winter Tem looked down at her the surprised expression on the face of her twin which was tilted up from the eager crouch that she was in just beyond the threshold to the right.

“Same as you. Here to see fools getting pummelled.”

Sleet’s surprise twisted into disbelief for a moment before she rose to a stand, her eye level meeting Winters precisely. The hard creases of her cream jumpsuit fall away only to reappear in the skin of her smooth brow in the form a frown. “You’ve never come before.”

“I had no interest before. I do now.”

“What? Why? The medidrones deal with the breaks”

“Yes, and I deal with them.” It was an answer Sleet seemed satisfied with, enough at least for her to turn and watch Geana’s male opponent deliver three quick blows in succession, although apparently to thin air.

“He’s actually pretty good.” Sleet commented, “He was from Mannar.” The reference seemed to trigger a curiosity in Sleet and she turned back to her sister. “Have you been to the terraforming facilities yet? They’re only one jump away.”

“No, I have not.” Winter paused, not quite content to leave it at that she went on to say “I may…” but any further comment was truncated by the pin-wheeling collapse of the Mannerite as he hit the mat with a grunt.

“Alright, enough for today. Hit the sonics.” Geana declared as she straightend from the throw.

“Aw, but Geana, you promised!” Sleet loudly objected.

Geana grimaced in recollection. “Next time Sleet.” Her gaze slightly shifts while Winter strides through the slowly emptying room towards the drone control unit. “Gives you time to practice.”

Winter recalls the medidrones to their offline stations, before dropping behind the standard interface to retrieve the information she was after. The scans, the logs, they’re gone!

Winter stilled as she felt the presence of Geana over her left shoulder. Her words were ominous and clear. “Not cool Winter. Not cool.”

Winter seethed as the presence left to be replaced with Sleet’s infuriatingly cheerful chip in her right periphery. “What was that about?”

“Nothing. Nothing for you worry about anyway. Snowflake is interfering in my research again.”

“Nothing serious then.” Sleet quipped, a sarcastic twist to her lips that Winter did not catch.

“Oh it is,” Winter turned to meet Sleets enquiring eyes after checking to see that Geana had left the room. “Geana’s barren. Which means we” indicating the both of them, “can not reproduce normally.” Sleet gasped as Winter grimly goes on the spell it out for her “The termination of a genetic line, is, serious.”

What is so important that you need to see me in person Sleet? Snowflake asked, her hands folded flat at the commodious comm-desk, her gaze direct but not unkind.

“Heh, do I need a reason to talk with my favourite Aunt?” Sleet responded reflexively, before internally acknowledging that Snowflake was correct not to accept or respond to this false flattery. “I’ll get right to it. Why are you so hard on Winter, but not me?”

“Is that how it looks to you Sleet? Favouritism? It amuses me that you think I have time to entertain such a bias.” Snowflake’s eyes glittered with a clarity that did not match the amusement she spoke of.

“Winter is guided as she must, but the liberty that has been left to you is far from frivolous.”

“Each of we Tem have have received our role and the training related to it out of necessity, not by choice, with the exception of you Sleet Tem.”

“You are our scout Sleet, the pioneer encountering and responding to threats Our Order is as yet unaware of. On your autonomy rests the the weight of all our gazes. The path you choose guides our hope.”

“I look upon your decisions with trepidation and envy. We give you the best advice that we can, but the plotting of your course is your own because it has to be. Your failures will guide our success.”

Sleet remained silent and still. The realisation that the charmed life that she had thought she had been living was a lie washed like a cold splash upon her spine. Not favouritism; just a long leash and the liberty to fall hard and alone.

“So, Winter?” Sleet was hesitant to ask the Order’s Principle Overseer without actually asking.

“Winter is on the path she has been prompted to take, just as I have been.”

“You know about Geana.” Sleet stated, almost a whisper. Snowflake’s nod was hardly necessary.

“Winter’s investigation serves more than one purpose.” A brief pause before. “Our condition is likely to do with something Geana derived from her trials and abuses on Lirsautton Six prior to obtaining Capsulaeer status.”

“In this both you and Geana are alike, placed beyond oversight and authority to suffer a future as yet unforeseeable.”

“Is that all Sleet?” Snowflaked asked as her visitors expression remained frozen. “Then I thank you for your report and I look forward to your next one.

Snowflake cleared her desktop of the completed project file. The shape of the commdesk’s photon-projection reverted to the default landscape. The terrain was dominated by a simple floating cylinder bracketed by two square grids forced by perspective into acute diamonds. The grid wall represented a plane upon which the shadow cast by the cylinder was either a circle or a square, depending upon your axis of preference.

It was a reminder to herself that the truth of a matter was largely dependent upon ones point of view, that all angles should be considered when analysing a problem and that stepping beyond the thoroughly documented dimensions only complicates things unnecessarily.

It was an illustration she had stumbled across in her social studies, simple enough for her herself to encode into the holodeck yet profound enough for her to want to.

Adopting a chi at rest pose initiated the daily ritual. It was a physical exercise, a dance of sorts, incorporating many of the sweeping and expressive movements that can be found in the martial arts and Ida’s spirit-stirring mnemonic sequences.

A fluid open palmed reach pushed the central cylinder into it’s own shadow. Sliding into but not beyond the boundary wall.

The remaining circle flashed, enlarged, became dominant as it re-orientated itself to float parallel to the desk and spawned six colourful spheres one after the other. Each sphere sped to the edge of the circular plane equidistantly, while the mothering circle faded to a faintly glowing ring.

Snowflake embraced the nearest sphere then released it with widely expanding arms, causing the planet to grow, it’s spin now noticeable, it continents and oceans prominent. Just one of the three temperate worlds she oversaw in this system, a fourth temperate planetary sphere from a different system remained simply within reach, just beyond the current focus, should she wish to beckon it.

The dominant fore-world whirled and zoomed down to hone-in on the planetary command and control centre. Here Snowflake could review any of the meetings and conversation her algorithmic-ally calibrated simulacrum had taken part in upon the planets service. She favoured this personal touch, the remotely collected data could be directly fed into her sensory implants so she could minutely monitor every twitch and heartbeat of the planetary staff she oversaw.

Many of the minimally capable refugees and homeless now sworn to service would be found stations to attend in these facilities. Not necessary the most efficient use for them but the calculated losses were acceptable.

She was pleased that her review of the production facility managers reaction to these decisions had not led to any notably negative responses.

The same was true for each of the worlds she virtually visited in turn, stoppages and logistics difficulties were each resolved with a pre-programmed gesture, slide or swipe. While her avatar delivered those graceful directions in the form of fully expounded upon diplomatic language, succinct and clear, just as they had become accustomed to.

On occasion, as was her wont, she would drop in to personally deliver an astute observation gleaned through her prosthetic senses. Just enough to inject a desired edge.

With six fully developed worlds to manage, some more than others, even this minimal effort amounted to a significant workout.

The same results, or better, could be achieved from the pod, with much less time or physical strain.

This method kept her fitter tho and better able to personally defend her vulnerable state, she told herself. Yet the truth cast its angular shadow even as she turned away from it. The pod was so so similar to the clone vat she had awoken screaming in when time began.

River’s rescue was a delivery from an endless formless void of self-awareness where there was no self to be aware of. River gave her an identity, a purpose, the charisma and training to accomplish that purpose. Their survival, everything they had accomplished together was due to the painstaking care she, Snowflake Tem, had put into analysing the effects of carefully weighted personal presentation.

She had told no one that the screaming in her skull had never stopped.

Geana cursed.
Staring at her with an angry gaze were the words plainly written on her portable necomm “Category 67” of the munitions components ledger she had been impatiently skimming through. Which, by itself, was nothing of note, but this and the two others times in the last half hour the word “Cat” was brought her attention shortly followed by the number six and subsequently followed by the number seven made the connection a certainty. Apiencaron was reaching out to her.

Subcontracting to the Federal Intelligence Agency was no joke. Heavy handed subliminal cues like that were not issued lightly. Geana knew full well that she was supposed to drop everything she was doing and jump over to Cat VI - Moon 7 - Federal Intelligence Office Logistic Support to receive whatever brief Blanque‘s flying cockroaches were crapping themselves over now.

“I’m outfitting the Talos squadron you bald headed bastard.” She spat out loud, with no-one in the immediate vicinity to be forgiven for being startled by the outburst. Geana knew perfectly well that nothing in an Egonics station, or anywhere else for that matter, falls on deaf ears when this level of attention was applied.

“I’m sick of doing your dirty work. I’m here to claim my property, which is to your benefit, so back off! Got it?” There was no response. Not that she expected any. Whatever censure was now on its way could take its own sweet time to get here.

Chewing out your handler was not generally a wise move, but Apiencaron had been subjected to much worse when the Federal Law Courts had ruled her jump-clones as self-aware and thus protected under anti-slavery laws.

That rage rant had got her assigned to the White Rabbits and some long years of mingling with Gurista scum, but what really got her in trouble was the attempted gunning-down of the erstwhile runaway clone-bods under her own overheating blasters. That had brought her right back into the federal fold where they could keep a proper eagle-eye on her. She suspected that Snowflake knew what she was about, but doubted any of the others did.

Geana slammed a hand into the station bulkhead. “They’re all trying to play me.” she spoke to herself, before determinedly striding toward her pod and the blaster fit Talos it commanded. Anger hissed through gritted teeth as an imperative blazed its desire in cold blue flame inside her mind: Someone is going to burn.

“Our progenitor lost another Talos.” River stated in her customary matter of fact manner.

The words auto-transcribed onto the Monastic Order’s secure neocomm channel.

“Really?” Snowflake’s similarly generated response comprised a flavour of genuine surprise due to it’s solo presentation for a fraction of a moment. The next line read “I’m sure they will want to know the details. How this time?”

“A Loki capsuleer of apparent nullsec origin took advantage of her narrow focus on a Serpentis Wing Leader in a neighbouring lawless system. Similar to the previous occasion.

I hope she does not make a habit of this inefficiency. It is eating into the reserves.”

“The reserves are for the benefit of the Federation, River. Geana is the only member of our Order with the ability to pilot them effectively.”

“Their narrow use case frustrates me. Vexors are much more versatile. Your suppositions are tentative Snowflake. Why continue this programme?”

“Alignment on information discovery bonds us. Our Order requires Monsieur White’s tacit support to achieve our goals.

“Vague. Assurance?” River’s terse retort.

“None to be given or received. Faith Sistren.”

“Contingencies required.” River insisted.

“Of course.” Snowflake placated. “Stay the course for prosperity and peace.”

“I am sworn to it. End of line.” The conveniently encoded secure chat channel closed with River’s abrupt terminating gesture.

The Bio-security logo of Winter’s cap flashed and glittered in response to the scanning beam.

In a moment the universal security passport indicated a go for green entry and she did so.

The room was empty and dark and she assumed her position towards the centre back of it.

An open palm gesture initiated the program.

The image of a logarithmic-ally collated collection of bio-electric-signatures presented itself in three dimensional space.

She set about the practise of visually identifying discrete features of the mass highlighting the boundaries in triangular planes of three dimensional space. An activity, she had been assured, that artificial intelligences were limited in their capacity to achieve.

She cleared the set of panels with practised ease, not even pausing to smile as the counter of her ISK balance that was permanently suspended in her periphery increased in rewarding increments.

The data presented was anonymous, but medical in nature, gleaned from who know what individual in the universe. It had been hinted, but never confirmed, that the efforts of the discovery projects workers went to containing variants of the Kyonoke Plague Outbreak that the global Bio-security Responder force were founded upon.

But there was no direct evidence of that. She could be hacking bio-security encryption for all she knew. There was simply no way of knowing what they did with the resultant information.

This was the only activity that she knew of in Gallente space where the contracted were bound by a condition of pure faith in authority.

It galled her that Snowflake had this fact to prop her liberal arguments upon.

She called an intermission with her right hand palm while the left twirled a clockwise finger to activate a previously installed subroutine.

A two dimensional hexagraphic gird sporting a short path of simple nodes superimposed itself over the suspended and partially bound log-flow-graphic.

“Time for a new game.” Winter announced and she went to work.

The bereted guards stood sentinel on either side of the threshold with high-tech assault rifles held comfortably across their chest.

Taking her cue Sleet took a deep breath and strode purposefully to meet them. “Hi guys, how’s it hanging?” Not waiting for a response she all but thrust a data-slate into the leftmost guard’s hands.

“Comms-protocol compliance audit.” She announced with a smile as the guards mirrored aviator gaze dropped to examine the warrant with the first line in capitols reading just as recited.

The guards said nothing through his blue re-breather as he attempted to return the slate confident that CONCORD jurisdiction that supported this bio-security detail surpassed anything the local station authorities could pull.

Sleet pushed the slate back with greater firmness. “Scroll down, it’s all in order. That’s two Federal Justices’ signatures.”

The guard did so, paused, turned to his second and spoke in a low muffled tone. “I’m going to have to verify this.”

“Yes-you-will.” Sleets smile evident in her vocal timbre. “You’ll need a secure terminal for that, and you should watch his back while he does it because until he proves otherwise you have no authority here.”

The mirrored lenses met, nodded and moved to comply. “You are relieved gentlemen.” Sleet mockingly saluted the uniforms without privilege as they past by in the act of abandoning post.

Once the two were out of sight Geana stepped out of concealment and placed a hand portable data analyser over the scan access panel and began her hack. In a matter of seconds the door slid to the side.

A bio-security clad figure sat in meditative position at the centre of the darkly lit room.

Sleet leaned against the door-frame. “I’m not coming in there, it stinks.”

The figure rose to her feet, turned to face them and strode through the threshold without comment.

“Amateur.” Geana sniped as she passed. “You’ve no idea what this caper has cost me.”

“Worth it.” Winter rasped darkly beyond them both as she sailed on with dignity.

Geana looked over the Tyro’s aligned in two rows in front of her. Eukata robes folded into neat squares before each one, their necks bowed and knees bent. The compliance irked her.

These were the best of the human riff-raff that River picked up? All types, representatives from each race and empire but as always the majority being the displaced residents of Kabar looking for a fighting chance to claim a sliver of a place called home.

Now Geana looked over the cowed heads in an attempt to select one worthy to receive the martial skills she had learned on the cramped streets and warehouses of Lirsautton VI. But first, the ritual inspection to ensure Sleet had not slipped in again, and there she was, not amongst the ready rows but lined amongst the spectators along the wall her eukatar cowl up and obscuring the features so similar to her own.

“Step out Sleet.” Geana growled through her bitten-back respect for the stubborn pig-headed disobedience.

The figure did so, and reached up to drop the cowled pretence to her shoulders. “I’m not here to interfere.” Snowflake stated as her prosthetic implants and styled hair became apparent.

“Snowflake, what are you doing here?” She asked, genuinely surprised to see The Order’s Principle Oveseer out beyond Ethernity.

“I am here to observe. I have developed a style of my own. I would like to see it tested and perhaps, adapted.”

“No time like the present.” Geana beckoned through what she felt must be a predatory grin. There would not be another chance to knock the living ■■■■ out of the usurper walking around in her body.

“Indeed. Although, I would not want to add a defeat on the mats to your recent ship loss count.” Snowflake remained calmly at ease.

Incensed, Geana closed the distance to within arms reach. ■■■■ the mats. Only the glitter of Snowflake’s prosthetics stayed a strike. Those sensory nets could detect the build-up of muscular tension before a blow was launched.

“Please, demonstrate.” She invited in matching timbre, rimmed with ice.
Snowflake, predictably, launched a kick to an emotional wound they shared, her womb, although her block and counter punch seemed to be anticipated also.

Thirty seconds of frenetic activity with no further contact balanced the mental equation in her own mind. “Alright.” Geana said as she stepped back to a safe range. “You have the class.” But there was no frickin’ way she would be lining up on her knees like the others.

The well sweated Tyro’s filed out. They had done well. She knew each of their names and more of their history and ancestry than she did of her own. She arrested Geana’s exit with the lightest touch. “I have a favour to ask.”

“Figured as much.” Geana replied calmly. Her attention showing no signs of hostility on any of the bands of radiation perceivable to her.

“I know who sponsored your capsuleer compatibility course. I know what you stepped beyond and through to get where you are now, but I do not know the full extent of our cultural heritage. I want to.”

“Why? This is it. The last of the real Tem. The no-good survivor of a good-for-nothing planet that Sang Do could care less about.”

Snowflake paused. Carefully selecting the words of her augment.

“Do you know why the aquila of the Gallente shield looks to the left?” She did not wait for a response. “It uses it’s far-sighted gaze to examine its own history to better understand the course of the future.”

Geana grunted “I wouldn’t know.”

“Do you not find it ironic that the Caldari subject themselves to abject duty in service to State and yet so much of their cultural iconography takes flight in the symbology of freedom?”

Geana “I don’t care.”

“I do. I want to know what I been tasked to preserve. I want to know the full scope of the shadow your forefathers cast upon us and I want you to allow Winter to investigate our origins to the full.

“Fine, so long as she stays out of my hair.” Geana dismissively turned to leave while dropping the stilling wave of a hand.

Snowflake called out to her as she receded away from her. “She’s going to be in your hair Geana.”

“Whatever!” Again with the hand as she passed the threshold. An under-breath mutter was legibly enhanced beyond that “Can’t be worse than Sleet.”

After a still moment Snowflake added her own whisper to the silent empty room. “I want to know that we are worthy.”

Snowflake was obstructing her Caldari type engineering station as she arrived to work. The irregularity of it stymied her for a moment.

“You are premature, the drone manufacturing suite is incomplete and won’t be done for some time yet.”

Snowflake stood up and allowed River to take her customary place. “I’m not here for marketing River.”

River dismissed the task list that was habitually summoned as she settled into seat and she turned to look up at Snowflake. “How may I assist you?”

Snowflake shook her head, a micro expression, her ice blue eyes unusually bright in the pin-point station lighting. “I have… such a terrible, head… ache, River. I don’t know that I can function as you would wish.

River frowned and flipped a number of station switches. “Your prosthetic and implants seem to be functioning within expected parameters Snowflake. Everything appears to be in normal range but biology is not my strong suit. Have you talked to Winter?

Snowflake shook her head again, sighed, then switched topic. “I think it would be wise to close this office, quietly. Perhaps relocate to our office with our Egonics friends in the neighbouring system.”

“I am reluctant to abandon this production system Snowflake. CONCORD security is unrivalled.”

“It is CONCORD that I’m worried about.”

“Oh,” River paused for a long moment. This perturbation would be massively destabilising to her well established production routine. “Well, I’m sure you know best.

“Yes, I think it is for the best. In the long term.”

River raised a hand to her mouth and chewed on the little finger nail. An overload of inventory items, production materials and their researched processes crossed her mind. Each would need to be shipped with the utmost security. She could do it all herself but it would be safer with Geana on over-watch.

It was a long while before she noticed that Snowflake had left.

“Sleet. Where is Winter? Why are she and Snowflake not replying to my pings? Respond immediately.” The missive was curt sans the customary honorifics River usually included in her communications. She may as well have been yelling.

Sleet clasped the singular large aquafibre towel to her chest. She had just emerged from the sonics and was hydrating after having lead a drill of Snowflake’s stunning new programme of katras.

The urgency in River’s missive caused her to reach out and establish a comm connection as is.

“I don’t know. I’ve not seen either of them. What is the problem River?”
The look on River’s face as she turned to the holo-cam was of the same intensity as she had seen in the presence of Geana when reviewing a poorly functioning rigging component.

“Possibly nothing. I just want Winter to examine Snowflake and neither of them are obtainable for communication.”

“Is something wrong?” Sleet asked with alarm.

“No.” River responded automatically, paused and said “Maybe” another long pause. “I think Snowflake needs to be reminded of ‘bedrock’.

“Bedrock?” Sleet repeated confused.

“Yes, bedrock; the founders. The Gallente miners that founded and established the colonies that made the Federation great. The core quasi-political slash hard-line funder-mentalist movement that funded our legal council in the Federal Law Courts on the premise that there is no sense on letting pre-established and perfectly compatible, meaning expensive, capsualeer bodies go to waste just because they became inexplicably self-aware and then hunted across the region by their ‘owner’.”

“Look, Snowflake can tell you the story better herself when you find Winter and get the two together. Drop everything and do that now.”

Sleet looked down at her towel and back up into River’s earnest expression in time to catch her final words “End of line.” The holo-projection faded to naught.

“Right, bedrock.” She repeated and set about her assignment.

Snowflake gazed through the carbon crystal view-port unmoved by her arrival. Not surprising since she had invited her to escort her back to Ethernity and specified this location of the docks in which to meet up once more. She arrived silently by her side to look over the object of her attention.

In the dim glow of minimum maintenance lighting lay an Orca class industrial, every bit as silent and still as Snowflake was being.

“I am summoned.” Winter gravely announced herself.

“What do you know about this particular vessel Winter?”

“That neither of us have the skills to pilot it. Why am I here Snowflake?”

“We, are here, because the man that founded our Monastic Order with me is in there, and this is as close as I can be to him.”

Winters silence was full of questions that she did not ask.

“Before your time, when Geana was away, River and I learned what it was to be human from the Intaki that tirelessly worked that ship and others. His faith kept me alive. His steadfastness made me strong. His foibles made me laugh.” She turned to Winter.

“He has been gone a long time. His primary clone body remains in there as far as I can tell, but his spirit, I think — I know — is never coming back.”

“I sometimes wonder whether oblivion would be peaceful or a just another revolution on Ida’s hamster wheel with all its inherent noise.”

“The point.” Snowflake said, seeing Winters’ building impatience. “Is that I want you to know the things about we Tem that we do not know ourselves. I want you to discover our ancestry, because I simply just do not have the time to do it myself. I am authorising you to travel to Lirsautton and find all the metaphorical skeletons of our genealogy.”

Snowflake gestured back to the Orca .“Without this man, I, need to know, that the effort of our survival is worth living.”

Winter had never seen Snowflake looking so vulnerable. Even with all this fine acting surely Snowflake would know of her disinterest. “What is in it for me?”

47/354065/255 narrowed to line, then to a dot and finally faded from existence.

She leaned back from the comm-desk with the customary control of her frustrations intact.
So much squandered potential on every level was maddening, but the line that really chilled her came in the terminal post.

“I’d say I’m disappointed, but you are all Capsuleers.” @Alexandre_Arthie

It was an attitude she had come across before, it had been in a surprising place and time; the data-card library the Sisters curated as an archive in the Sisters of EVE Bureau of Athinard Four.

She had always preferred the slow methodical activity of holding the neocom data-card-readers in her own hands and taking the leisure to recline at the benches provided in order to consume the letter and word encoded information in the universally shared process known as reading.

It was a luxury for her to experience this time honoured method of data transfer. A guilty pleasure, outrageously inefficient, that she would indulge in from time-to-time at the Sisters refuge on her return trip from the Dodixie market hub.

On this occasion she had requested of the curator any records the Sisters held on the Jin-Mei adoption into the Federation. Actually, she was interested in the calligraphic poetry the Adakul monasteries would likely have produced at that time but left the query open to allow correlation and context.

What she received was a high ranking Matron Sister with a polite denial. “Ms Tem. You have been welcome within these halls due to your activities and fair standing with our organisation. The records you have requested are not available to Capsuleers. I think it best that you return to your pod now.”

It had been a thorough shock at the time.

Back in clammy clasp of her pod she had summoned within seconds the relevant chronicles documenting the circumstances surrounding the SOE attitude towards her status as a Capsualeer. It felt so unfair. She remembered thinking; I did not choose this, I did not cause this, I was ‘born’ this way.

With this recent reminder in place a thought formed and remained searingly vibrant: Capsuleers are gods in their own mind and humanity hates them.

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Snowflake’s office was open and spacious with a highly vaulted ceiling and yet occupied only by a single large comm-desk and the figure that had just now leaned back from it.

Am I interrupting?” Sleet asked as she virtually tip-toed in. “The door is wide-open.”

“It is always open to you Sleet. Others would soon find it much more problematic. How can I help?”

“You know, just reporting-in. River is virtually yelling at me to get you to turn the company comms back on.” A flick of Snowflake’s wrist and River’s wish was granted. “Was that Winter’s Caracal I saw warping off outside?” She knew it was.

“Yes, she is on assignment for me.”

“Oh, drat. River wanted her to give you a check-up, or something, like that was ever going to happen.” The chuckle sounded false even to her own ears. Why was this place so intimidating?

“River and your concerns are noted and appreciated. However you should not feel obliged to jump to River’s command Sleet. You are a free agent.”

“I know, like Geana is The First Agent, but I choose to because I want to not because River asked.”

“Well then,” Snowflake added smoothly. “If you want to assist Winter about her tasks you are very welcome to. I do not doubt there will be locations outside of Sang-Do control where she will come to appreciate your self-discipline as she digs through Geana’s old haunts.”

Sleet leaned forward. “She’s going to Lirsautton VI, I’m there.”

“If you wish examine the original Adukal while you are in-system and perhaps review their drills. I may have misinterpreted some of the texts from which our practices were derived.”

“I’d like that, but…” Sleet began, but Snowflake finished.

“Winter does not need you as a guard, or as a shadow, or perhaps at all.”

“Is she connecting with ‘bedrock?’” Sleet asked and was genuinely surprised to note Snowflake blink at the use of the term.”

“What do you know of ‘bedrock?’”

“Err, they’re miners.” She shrugged.

“They are more. They are an informal yet fundamental principle that can be agreed upon for the construction of great things. Come to this side of the desk Sleet, I want to show you something.”

Two casually dressed males arrived from different sides of the shuttle port embankment. They intercepted and blocked Winter’s passage to the waiting shuttle. One simply shook his head, the other politely but firmly gestured in a manner that instructed her to turn back.

Winter stood her ground embodying all the authority her bio-security livery implied. Her challenge was met with another shake of the head and a stubborn folding of arms, while the director took her immobility as an opportunity to firmly grasp her upper arm and roughly turn her about.

Geana stepped back from her observation point into the lee of information booth she used for cover. This Egonics station’s passenger terminal was typically busy at all hours, but seems to be especially pregnant with expectant travellers today.

Winter was pushed and dragged past the booth with little regard for her protests or the many heads that turned to stare at the drama. They seemed to be headed up the broad-way that lead into the heart of the Gallente station’s commercial promenade, yet they distinctly veered towards an innocuous looking utility door in the right wall.

Geana released a soft hiss. “That’s right, get in my hair – inherit my parasites.”
The door was obviously accessible to maintenance personnel only. Winter may not survive the privacy it afforded. Geana hurriedly scanned the open terminal for security personal that may be near enough to assist but came up empty.

Turning back to Winter and her bracketing escort she was surprised to see four familiar looking soft-green Eukata with raised cowels converge on the area and surround them. Sleet, a fifth individual, stood in relaxed imposition in her casual creams before the utility door.

Judging from the stance of the robes, these were the tyros Sleet had usurped mastership over employing Snowflakes’ styling. The tallest was definitely the Mannerite she had tested to an acceptable level of competence. A brief flurry of movement as grips were forcefully disconnected and blows were deftly guided off target. A pause lead to a tense stand-off.

Words were exchanged, although inaudible at this range, Winter was definitely the most incensed and with her ire directed against Sleet’s interference while the two local males made it known that Winter was not welcome on the planet surface before carefully backing out of the situation. Once clear they turned to resume their vigil against unwanted tourists.

Isolated along with their escort Winter and Sleet debated direction before ultimately abandoning the terminal in favour of retreating into the depths of the station. Geana watched them go.

As he passed, the nearest of the two guardians caught Geana’s eye, nodded and continued on without a word.

The object in her hands was interminably old. She had measured, catalogued and recorded its dimensions, mass and output in every way conceivable, yet it remained inscrutable. It was the eldest mystery in her small trove of enigmas. Just to hold it here in quiet contemplation and ponder its origins felt sacrilegious.

“How can I define what you are when I don’t even know what I am?” She asked the object. Her thoughts returned to the individual who had lifted her head free of ectoplasm with a supplicant’s support similar to what she employed with the artefact now. The nutrient plasma had run in viscus rivulets from her face as he steadied the back of her head and reached with the other hand for the vacuum tube that he used to clear an air path for her mouth and nose. Only then did he afford to effect her clarity of vision.

“Good, good, well done, so serene.” He had said as she accepted the conditions of her new world, although the noise was intelligible at the time the tone of it was reassuring. Only later having stolen Geana’s identity in order to break her clone sibling free from a similar prison on the other side of the Federation did she comprehend the relief behind the compliment. In starling contrast her clone sibling was rigid from head to foot requiring every muscle in her body to lever free of the morass revealing the rictus of her gaping mouth and horrified glare, intently focused on an imperceptible threat.

While the tech had labelled her as River due to her calm acceptance of the information he streamed into her consciousness her sister remained rigid and brittle in the face of the engram chains forming within her skull. Only when she had finally communicated the urgency of their joint survival did Snowflake crystallise upon their purpose and gain the name that was subsequently granted her.
River purged the laboratory of records relating to that chilling resurrection, but both she and Snowflake returned to her own birthplace to extract and retain the records of her own awakening.

“To create life and name it is a sacred rite.” Snowflake had said at a later date when she had pleaded for her loyalty while under duress from their progenitor. “By what right do we flee? We have no name other than what we have given ourselves, no community or inheritance to align with or protect. Who are we? Jin-Mei? By inherent genetic make-up maybe, but without right of caste, privilege or tradition. Nether of us know how to protect ourselves, yet you demand that I find a way. I don’t know who we are. I’ve searched, there is no place in all of history for our like. We are objects out of time and place. How do I defend the indefinite?”

“Survive first, sister.” She had said for that was their sole occupation at the time. “Fugitives is what we are for now. We must find a moments peace in order to make a stand and measure our mark. I promise you, one day, we will.”

River’s gazed never left the Yan Jung vellum at hand; a veteran of conflict, looting and reprisal down through a series of dark ages. She felt akin. “Survivors.”

“Thank you for coming Kal Arris.” Sleet welcomed the monk and his fellows at the entrance of their temporary quarters in the Eugonics station. “As I said in our comms both me and my sister can’t get down planet-side for one reason or another and we really want to learn from you.”

“We are content to accommodate.” The bald man with a pleasant round face wearing dark damask robes nodded with a smile. “You mentioned that you are willing to offer the Greater Adukal Union free passage on your transports in exchange is that correct?”

“Yes, Snowflake our Principle Overseer wants a closer relationship with practitioners and has authorised me to make our services available discretely to you and the other Monasteries. As a student of Idaukal herself she wants to see the general practice promoted. Me and these four tyro seek to attain self-mastery in the original Rao style.”

“I see.” Arris said while his fellows placed their luggage at rest and at the centre of the atrium leading to the accommodation prepared for them. “There is the difficulty of heritage. Original Adukal is calibrated to Sang-Do sensibilities that these tyro can not posses. Forgive me, but I understand that you are a capsualeer clone of a casteless exile. What can you hope to gain from this pursuit?”

Sleet looked to her left for reassurance from the impassive almost bored face of Winter who was stood some respectful distance away, she found none. Turning back she shrugged, this was beyond the scope of the instructions Snowflake had provided but she felt an urgency to achieve this goal for herself. “We wish to understand our place, our punishment and … repent.”

She felt rather than saw Winter stiffen at her periphery at this last word so she went on to explain. “Aunt Geana, ah, err, our genetic original, does not know why her kin were condemned to The Curse generations ago. We, I mean Winter here – sought to investigate planet-side but Saan-Go denied us passage. We must know.”

“Then you must qualify in order to access our records.” Kal Arris stated in an understanding she had not particularly sought to achieve. “Very well. The rite of initiation commences next period. Prepare yourself for testing, all of you. Your ki will be laid bare in this public place and your quality made known.”

The challenge hung heavy in the air until he turned to his aids. “Come Kai, we must purify ourselves.” They collected their possessions and left without another word.