Results of Short Story competition - GM Week 2020

Hello story lovers!

We finally have the winners of the GM Week 2020 Short Story Competition! That‘s right: we have some excellent EVE Online fiction for you to read and some authors that have earned prizes! I will post the three winners in this thread in descending order, chosen by the GM team as is tradition with GM Week competitions.

We received way more submissions than we anticipated and I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to write a story and sending it to us. It hardens my shields and repairs my structure to see so much enthusiasm for New Eden and everything that happens in it.

The winners will be contacted via email through our ticket system for further dialog and dispensation of prizes.

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1st place - Outlaw’s Lament by Xeromus Plague

“All hands to the main deck.”

The message came blaring over comms, jarring me from my sleep. The computerized voice repeated itself, echoing ominously throughout the dimly lit red halls of the starship Kali. Half awake, I pause to consider the irony in this order - “all hands” was no more than a 200-man skeleton crew, aboard a Triglavian battleship fit for a few thousand. The quarters were so spacious, the staff had taken to claiming entire barracks as personal sleeping spaces, decorating them with treasures and souvenirs from their own travels. I yawned, and tapped the glowing red triangle on my communicator to indicate I’d received the order.

Though I disliked having my limited sleeping shifts disrupted, I begrudgingly strapped on my boots and prepared to make my way to the central command chambers. I’d signed up to serve under Subcommandant Plague in the early days of the Triglavian invasion; hoping to do my part against Edencom, expecting the job to be tedious… but it turned out, staffing a capsuleer vessel was surprisingly dull, solitary work. A bit of repetitive upkeep, a few shifts managing inventory and stocking radioactive munitions, punctuated by those terrifying moments of singing alarms, as we clashed relentlessly with Edencom forces. The pay was incredible, and the risks seemed few in comparison; for all his quirks, Plague always saw us out alive. He DID seem rattled by our close call in Niarja; but as was often the story, last minute evasive maneuvers had seen us jump out to safety before our hull cracked. Ever since the Triglavians had taken interest in the star, the Subcommandant had been unusually reserved, spending his days poring over trinary data vaults, translating ancient Triglavian philosophy. If he was already distant, living as he did in the very core of the vessel, he had practically been a ghost ever since the day we fled Niarja. He’d only comm me directly to request help with translations, or to ask for status reports on various invaded systems.

The port to the main deck whirred open, and I shuffled in to find most of the staff already waiting. Freed slaves, scientists, exotic dancers and janitors, misfits one and all; strays and nomads the Subcommandant picked up during a life of interstellar troublemaking. Some of these eccentrics had been serving under Plague since long before the invasion began… They told stories in the mess hall of campaigns against the Sansha, life as Blood raiders, efforts to smuggle enslaved peoples out of Delve. They spoke of BreadFleet, a force of interstellar anarchists who challenged all established authority in New Eden. Each of us, for one reason or another, had chosen to stand alongside Subcommandant Plague in defense of the Triglavian refugees… and, since we were all wanted dead by every Empire in known space, Kali was the only home many of us had left.

I lit a cigarette and found my way to a corner seat in the spacious command chamber, the tiny crew around me only amplifying the feeling of emptiness in the massive command deck. The main screen in the center of the room was still on standby, updates flickering across the bottom in Triglavian characters. Oh, how I’d come to hate those little triangles… for the many hours the Subcommandant had me spend deciphering old datavaults, I could nearly read the updates in real time without my translator. The great red chamber filled with the sounds of questions and curses, and the smell of cheap liquor; professionalism hardly a qualifying trait for service aboard Kali. I smiled, comfortably distant from the buzz of the crew; they could be a handful at times, but these folks had come to feel like family. Together, we’d kept this boat movin’ through the unlikeliest of circumstances, and each made a small fortune in the process. Sure, we’d helped some folks… and we were always always in it for the right reasons. ‘Principle over profit’, as the Subcomandant might say. But, to the benefit of all aboard, the profit was considerable.

At once, the vidscreen jumped alive; the room filled with the slender masked outline of Subcommandant Plague. It was clear, even from what little we could see of his surroundings, that he was in disarray. Empty nerve sticks littered the restricted flooring of his capsule, and he’d left uncountable screens up in the background, each referring to some obscure bit of Triglavian history, or some notes he’d taken from the datavaults.

At the sight of the capsuleer, the crew let loose a deafening cheer; the floors shook with the stamping of feet, and the shattering of liquor bottles.
“COMRADE PLAGUE!!”
“THE UNKILLABLE!!”
“SALUTATIONS, ENEMY OF EMPIRES!!”

The applause and the shouting echoed throughout the hall, as drinks were raised to the screen bearing Plague’s still image. The hooded figure, apparently unmoved by the commotion, silently gestured with one hand for the crew to be seated. Almost at once, the noise cut to a hushed whisper, and the motley assortment found their way to their own seats. All eyes were fixed to the screen, when the Subcommandant began to speak:

“Comrades. I have called you here to let you know, I have set a course for Reblier. I will be docking Kali at an undisclosed station upon arrival in system.”

At this, the room started to buzz with the sounds of confused crewman. What business had we in Reblier?

“Effective upon our arrival, your contracts will be terminated. Upon docking, all crew and passengers will immediately disembark Kali, where you will be smuggled by covert shuttle into Syndicate. You will each be given a severance bonus of 10m Kredits each, enough to secure a comfortable life for you and your descendents wherever you choose in nullsec. You will not struggle nor want, and you will be secure for the rest of your days beyond the reach of the Empires.”

A short silence overtook the command hall… until, at once, the room erupted in anger and cursing. Plague’s face warped a little beneath the impact of a thrown whiskey glass, which shattered against the screen.

“… I understand this displeases some of you, and hope you will try to understand my decision.”

At this, I rose from my seat and thumbed my communicator, indicating I wanted the floor.

“Comrade Evingod, Comms Officer. You are recognized.” Plague’s voice spoke softly over the screen.

The room quieted down, as the crew all turned to look at the corner where I stood. I tried to keep my voice from trembling as I spoke:

“Perhaps YOU will try to understand the frustration, Subcommandant. Each of us chose to stand by you through… all of this. We went to war with Sansha’s nation. We shot at Concord, and then at Edencom. We’ve made ourselves outlaws in every corner of k-space… and never have we strayed from your service. Kali is as much ours as it is yours… and we care about Triglavian liberation just as much as you do. By what right do you banish us from our own home? With all due respect… that’s ■■■■■■■■, sir.”

At this, the room became deadly silent. It was unthinkable to speak to a capsuleer in such a way; the moment the words escaped my lips, I feared I may have gone too far.

Rather than respond in anger as I expected he might, Plague winced; recoiling as if wounded by my words. He paused, and slowly reached a gloved hand to the plated mask over his face. A small hiss, and then a ‘pop’, as the bioadaptive plate loosened, and he pulled it away. The revealed figure beneath the mask was pale; the glimmering augmentations doing little to conceal the worry lines and stress in the bits where biological flesh still existed. The mythos of the capsuleer was one of a demigod… a fearless immortal who could endure any hardship… But, the character on the screen seemed thin, worn down, and above all, afraid. Was it my imagination, or could I see a small tear forming in the corner of his cybernetically-enhanced eyes?

“… You are correct.” He began. “Kali is your home. You have stood with me through everything we’ve done, every crime we’ve committed. When they called us traitors, when they demanded our corpses, you chose to stay. You chose this life - you are Kybernauts.”

He shifted uncomfortably, and continued:

“I have risked your lives many times, and would do so again in the pursuit of our greater mission. I’ve led uncountable shipmates, brave crews just like you, to horrible thankless deaths in cold forgotten corners of the abyss. And yet, every time I’ve asked you to die, you’ve stood boldly in the face of unspeakable wickedness. You’ve made this vessel a place of principle… challenged the authority of slavers and corporatists, fought for the liberation of the enslaved. You ARE my comrades, and I value and respect you more than you know. It is for that reason, I have come to the conclusions I have.”

His weathered face hardened, as he stared directly at me through the screen. My heart thumped wildly as his words, slow and cold, filled the room.

“What comes next is not liberation. There is no glory. There is no ISK. There is little hope of survival. I have something I must do… and I will not squander the lives of this crew on a mission so hopelessly foolish.”

He stopped, apparently satisfied that he’d said all that needed saying. After an uncomfortably long silence, I choked out the question:

“What is it you intend, Subcommandant?”

“Glorification.” came his calm reply.

There was no more shouting, not even a whisper. Had the Subcommandant consumed too many chems?

“Glorification, Subcommandant?” someone called from the crowd.

“Yes,” he responded slowly. “These treacherous agents of EDENCOM have spilled the blood of our allies in every star we pursue. These lapdogs of the state, who have relentlessly sought vendetta against Kybernauts, have taken innocent lives in the pursuit of our own. These cowards have chosen obstruction, and now I must test myself against them.” At this, his eyes closed, his voice continuing in a chilling calm monotone: “The Kybernauts invoke Cladistic Proving. Glorification of the fit, and mortification of the unfit will unfold in the Flow. Corrupted Narodyna must be extirpated.”

We all looked at one another, concerned for the Subcommandant.

“… Xeromus? What are you talking about?”

His eyes opened back up, his lucidity apparently returning. “Send an encrypted comm to Imigo. Have him tell the people of BreadFleet… tell them I’m sorry, and that I’ll see them in Buyan. I am going to the graveyard of capsuleers, and I intend to leave a message in blood, floating amongst the wreckage. I swear this sacred oath, to ensure final victory in that godforsaken wasteland at all costs. Gather your things, and prepare to disembark Kali. Comrades Sindrina and Lou will have covert shuttles waiting to smuggle you past CONCORD, and to a new life of freedom. I cherish your willingness to stand at my side… but there is no kind end to this path.”

In my heart, I knew what he meant. “Subcommandant, surely you can’t be suggesting… CONCORD abandoned the system soon after we escaped - It’s a bloodbath!” I pulled up the SCOPE reports on my communicator, and pointed to the list of casualties. “The number of ships destroyed in the last hour alone… if you go back there, you are GOING to get podded!” I shouted at the screen in desperation. “The forces in system have it covered… let the Triglavians fight this battle. There is no reason for you to risk jumping that gate, when you’re almost certainly going to die in the process. WE BARELY MADE IT OUT ALIVE!!”

“There is nothing more to say, comrade. I will personally ensure the death of every Edencom agent left in the system. The Kybernauts have called for fleet commanders; I am prepared to face the consequences of this decision.”

I tried to respond, but he cut me off with a final utterance, before the screen went black and left the confused crew alone with our thoughts:
“I’m going back to Niarja.”

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2nd place - Customs by Zycorax

A series of bleeps came through the integrated speaker in the computer console. He cast a quick glance at the screen to his left, showing a map of the solar system. A red, pulsating dot had just shown up on top of one of the stations near the centre of the system; a cynosural field.

“Not my problem,” he mumbled to himself, looking back at his primary screens. He stared at the depressingly short list of exports, and even shorter list of imports, that had yet to be processed. By the looks of things, it was going to be another slow shift for him.

He looked to his left again. The red dot was still there, blinking ominously. It wasn’t all that uncommon for capsuleers to use this system as a midpoint in their travels, but as it was just another backwater system in the middle of nowhere, they rarely stayed for long.

A different series of bleeps suddenly came through the speaker. The scanners had picked up something approaching at warp speed. Five signatures in total. Too many to be any of their regular customers. Nervously he opened the feed from the external cameras on the main screen. So far there were nothing but stars, green nebulas and the faint light from the sun. Then they appeared in the distance. Five dots, quickly growing in size, as the large ships decelerated from warp speed.

He stared at the screen. A chill went down his spine. These ships definitely didn’t look friendly. He also couldn’t recognise them. They were unlike anything he had seen before, except perhaps in the news lately, but surely it couldn’t be…?

The five ships were facing directly towards him, or at least the exterior camera that was currently on his feed. The dark metal formed what reminded him of gaping jaws, ready to devour anything in their path. Inside the jaws were a dark sphere, glowing orange on the surface. There was no doubt. These were of Triglavian origin. This was bad. Real bad.

An alarm went off, confirming what he had just established in his mind. The ships had opened fire, sending a steady beam towards the customs office. The shields were dropping, but not at an alarming rate just yet. A notification popped up on the screen, notifying him that his employer had been automatically notified of the aggression, as if that would do him any good right now. There was no way they would be able to form a response fleet in time to fight off these… He looked at the notification again. To his surprise the aggressor showed up with an ID. These were capsuleers, not some masked invaders from outer space, or wherever the Triglavians came from.

He let out a sigh of relief and continued to helplessly watch on, as the five ships continued to tear through the megastructure’s shields at an increasing rate. The speaker let out another series of bleeps and two additional ships decloaked near the other five. These he did recognise; a Manticore class stealth bomber and a Loki strategic cruiser. For a second he thought they were there to defend against the aggressors, but this hope was soon crushed, as missiles started to hammer the shields further.

He sat there watching, not really sure what to do. There probably were protocols for situations like these, but they were likely hidden somewhere in the massive manual he had been sent when he got this job. He had skimmed through the basic day-to-day instructions, which certainly didn’t include anything like this. That was the reason he’d taken this job, rather than one onboard a starship; less risk of being blown up. And yet here he was.

He jumped in his chair, as the power suddenly went out, leaving him sitting in the dark. After a few seconds, the red emergency lights blinked into action, giving the control room a rather creepy atmosphere. It was like something from one of those horror films he used to like as a teenager.

Outside things had gone quiet. The aggressors had stopped firing their weapons and the structure had automatically redirected most of its power reserves into reinforcing its defences, leaving it invulnerable for some time. The speaker once again made some noises, this time signifying an incoming broadcast. He quickly tapped the “Accept” button and a static image of a grey-haired man appeared on the screen. He had trouble reading the man’s crooked smile. Was it friendly? Smug? Gleeful? Perhaps a mixture of them all? Not that it mattered.

“Apologies for the inconvenience this might cause, but your employer was not particularly cooperative in the negotiations concerning the ownership of this structure, forcing us to take this extreme action. It is highly recommended that anyone inside evacuate by the time the structure is no longer reinforced. Every employee assigned to this particular structure will receive an offer to continue their services under our ownership once a new structure has been erected by our sister company. Until then, pack up any personal belongings and other valuables and leave the premises. Thank you.”

The broadcast ended, leaving him staring at the empty screen. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. It would seem that his shift ended early today. He stood up and started picking up the handful of things he owned in the room. Not a whole lot in the end it turned out. He was going to drop them off at his cabin and then head straight for the cafeteria. Hopefully they’d still have some warm coffee left.

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3rd place - Everything changes, nothing is truly lost by Morgan Tsukiyo

… and besides, for how long will we tolerate such brusque and overt display of this absurdity that is upon Saisio VIII? Does Sukuuvestaa need to constantly remind us that we are prisoners within our own home, even if under the disguise of a Workers Union Parade? To say that the Achura abbot was in fury would be an understatement.

The impeccably clothed Peace and Order Unit officer calmly enjoyed his tea with his eyes shut while sited upon his knees, barely acknowledging the emotional torrent upon him, and not letting it spoil the precious moment. He grew up in that temple, and often returned to visit it to enjoy the tea, relax at the gardens near the waterfall and commune with old friends, but this time the visit was about work.

We have been over this issue many times my dear Kōsa. While there are many Achurans in high positions within SuVee, myself included, for the moment it is still the Caldari Prime ways that most influence their actions. You know far better than I do that it takes time to empty one’s cup before it can be filled with something else.

As he gently placed the now empty cup upon the table, a relic ornated with white songbirds that was once a gift from one of the old Achura Emperors and bestowed only upon ceremonies and esteemed guests, he continued.

There is a lot going on outside the monasteries walls at the moment. The cluster is burning with the Triglavian menace, the Caldari are losing system after system and they took 5% of our territory in few months. He paused briefly, contemplating the numbers. The top brass is furious, and the higher ups are scared Kōsa. Do you think the Nugoeihuvi parade in Josamento, right next to the captured Otela, is some sort of joke? People are nervous, and nervous people tend to make mistakes. There are certain talks about changes in the Navy occurring and some sort of intervention.

Kōsa breathed in and breathed out after sitting back at his spot across the short table in a lotus position. He had no issue with his fury arising, he would not however invite it to sit down and drink tea with him, and so he opened both the front and the back doors of his mind to let it go on its own way.

Heinsuu old friend, I am aware of these so-called Triglavians. Acutely aware for that matter. Do you think I do not know what it is like to have your homeworld invaded, your people assimilated, and your natural resources harvested, no matter how polite, courteous or non-violent that the invaders may appear? You know the macro is a reflection of the micro, all is one. The struggle of the Achura, the Celestial Imperative and the Rod of the Creator are not disconnected from all that Is going on out there.

This strung a cord in the already tense Heinsuu. Kōsa was testing to see how much of the old Achura was left within this Sukuuvestaa officer. Both kept silent, so the abbot continued.

And now, you come to your birth planet to advise me restraint and moderation upon the news that the northern Jade Palace will be relocated so Sukuuvestaa may harvest rare minerals for the war effort? No need to explain, Chakai Potan already informed me about this new “sacrifice” our “Mother Megacorp” demands.

Heinsuu remained silent. He felt the conflicting emotions rising within his chest, and also breathed in and out. Service and sacrifice were paramount to him, he knew the sarcasm was intended to test his foundations, but never he questioned his purity of intent, and it was not going to be now he would do so. Breathe in, breathe out.

His mind analyzed several scenarios. If one meets force with force, there is a great chance of an explosion of energy and lots of people getting hurt, however if one embraces the force or redirects it, it is a lot easier to neutralize your target and avoid casualties around the conflict zone. That is what guided him since his time at the temple, that is what made him join the ranks of POU, that is what fueled his ascension. Infiltrate change from within, and steer the gaze away from Saisio, even if it meant from time to time to swallow hard orders like this one. The good of the many comes before the good of the few. Breathe in, breathe out.

Yes, my friend, that is precisely why they sent me. Our intelligence knows that the Celestial Imperative is financing more than explorers looking for the Rod of the Creator, they know that there are paramilitary units being trained, and that there are temples talking about a revolt.

That is not new of course, they have dealt with it since the first relocations, but in times like this, they are extra cautious. There are riots around the Caldari State already, they do not want to deal with the bad PR of internal struggles and anything outside the mask of unity and common cause, not to the Triglavians, to the Outsiders or to the other Megas.

They will make sure that the Jade Temple is relocated in its entirety to another nice spot and would not interfere in a time like this if it was not deemed necessary. I made sure they would get a good deal, SuVee is even going to inject money to increase the number of visitors and give it excellent publicity. It is a win win situation.

Kōsa looked at Heinsuu with a tender look. Always trying to circumvent the troubles, always trying to make a circle out of a square, always trying to deflect important issues that should be dealt with a head-on approach. One can not run away from their problems by getting bigger problems to deal with, and this sounded like avoidance to his ears. He smiled.

There are indeed some monks that talk about this sort of revolt, but we know it will not accomplish our independence. It is good that they make noise, it reminds the people in power that we are not complacent. And yes, we have capsuleers backing and their near infinite pockets, but who would lead such a conflict against SuVee? Even with an army and money, there are leaders needed still, and that is not the case currently. So do not worry about infight or anything of the sorts, at least for the moment.
Heinsuu felt relieved by this, as if a huge weight had just been lifted from his shoulders. Kōsa had always been blunt and played with an open hand with him, so if he said something like this, there would not be a problem. Unless…

What are your thoughts about Kintsugi? Kōsa asked as he reached for the empty relic cup and contemplated the beautiful ancient craft.

To mend a broken ceramic with gold not only is a pleasant aesthetic but also a testament to the impermanence of things. I may have left the temple a long time ago, but I have not forgotten the teachings, nor our prized collection. Why do you ask?

One of our monks that ascended to the stars and became a capsuleer recently discussed it with me. She enjoys talking about our way of life to her fellow pilots and asked for permission to give a lecture about the subject, exhibiting our collection right here at our temple. She laughed when she mentioned that she even gave her contribution to it by fixing the cherry tree themed pot that she broke by accident.

That still does not answer my question. Why do you ask?

Sukuuvestaa never cared much for our oracles and our seers, but we still listen to them. This Triglavian situation will bring change to everyone in New Eden, as foretold not long ago by Akihiro Fumio. That includes the Caldari State and the Achura.

What are you trying to…? The confusion was noticeable in the officer.

The Caldari State is about to change once more, my old friend. Many clothings it had throughout time, Raata Empire, Gallente Founding Member, Caldari Prime Refugees, Tibus Heth. Do you remember the tale that when the last White Song left the Royal Tower, the Achura Empire would die? In the end, the empire died first, but nonetheless here we are, like the birds in this old cup.

As he said these words, the ancient, unique, unreplaceable cup that was used by several important figures since the Achura Empire, was unceremoniously thrown on the ground and broke in pieces.

Heinsuu eyes were wide open and he promptly stood up in shock with the sacrilege that had just happened.

Have you become insane Kōsa? That cup had centuries of history; it was a treasure to our people. What have you done?

The only constant is change, my friend. And we can implement it ourselves.

I will listen to none of this nonsense.

Calmly, Kōsa collected the pieces of the broken relic. Perhaps. But before you leave, a few words. The Celestial Imperative has agents within SuVee. Any retaliation against the temples in a time of such crisis may disproportionately upset the Achura management and show cracks in the… what you said again? Unity and common cause I think it was. We know the Megas are in turmoil and looking for the throats of anyone who exposes it, and infighting in a time like this would be quite damaging to the corporation. Besides, I have heard that there are some groups of capsuleers in talks with the Triglavians, and perhaps they may present a better offer regarding our situation towards the Megacorp.

Are you threatening me?

I do not threaten, I merely advise caution. In the end we are both looking at the same goals, but we are taking different roads. You can keep your reform from within, winning hearts and minds and all the compromises you like to implement to keep things from falling apart. I will push things to their breaking point so we can make them anew. In the end, we are a balance to each other.

Heinsuu looked at the peaceful abbot and the pieces he collected, and stood there for a while lost in thoughts. He then bowed slightly as a formality and turned to leave.

Remember Heinsuu: Everything changes but nothing is truly lost. Do come to visit once you sorted your emotions. Let us try the new cup when you do.

Heinsuu did not look back.

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