The Salvation of Meara Natinde

This story is the backstory of Meara Natinde, one of the main characters in the following story posted in this forum: Ministry of Truth

You do not have to read The Ministry of Truth to follow this story, but it might mean more to you if you do.

Some Definitions of Terms

  1. Emotional Wrapping - sort of like an emoticon, it is an AI-supported emotion that is sent as a part of non-spoken messages sent from Capsuleer to Capsuleer.
  2. Imperial Face - an unofficial term describing the front one puts on in a public setting, implying that what one truly believes is hidden. The term is thought to have originated by Caldari reporters who spent time trying to comprehend Amarr culture, though it has been adopted by many Amarr, though not in public settings.
  3. First Death - this is what Meara and Canaith refer to as the death that occurs at the end of Capsuleer training that results in a Capsuleer’s first clone.


In the never-ending war between the Amarr and Minmatar Militias for the low security warzone in Heimatar and the Bleak Lands, the struggle for control of the Auga system continued. For weeks on end, the push of the Amarr that had conquered Huola and Kourmonen had been stopped cold in that system. It was a stalemate that was wearing down the morale of Capsuleers on both sides of the war.

On this day, however, Meara Natinde was flying resupply runs between Amarr and Huola to support the operations of Canaith Lydian, the pilot to whom Meara’s service was offered. After several days of supporting Canaith and other Militia pilots in and around the Auga system, Meara had to admit that she was enjoying a day away from the war.

She was not a freighter pilot, nor was she a highly skilled trader or industrialist. Her piloting specialty was covert operations and exploration. Simply put, she was a scout. Nevertheless, she could fly Blockade Runners and Deep Space Transports, and she could handle enough light trading and manufacturing to keep Canaith and herself resupplied from the trade hub in Amarr.

While she was on her way from Amarr to Huola ferrying a cargo hold full of capacitor booster charges, she noticed a notification on her private channel with Canaith.

“Yes, Canaith,” she sent the thought, wrapping it in pleasantness. “Do you need something?”

“If time permits today, Dearest Meara,” he sent, wrapped in something like relief. “Could I trouble you to bring a new Jackdaw with an Advantage Fit to replace the one that was lost yesterday?”

Meara smiled to herself. This was the kind of thing one would expect to receive in a text.

“Of course,” she said, wrapped in respect. “My training into Arbitrators is complete, though, if you would rather just take the Jackdaw I have been using instead of a new one. It is docked up in Huola.”

“That is an excellent idea, Meara. I will transfer my Advantage Arbitrator in Huola to you in exchange for your Jackdaw.”

“Now,” she said, carefully wrapping her message in playfulness, “Why are you really talking to me? Is it because you are bored, or has something frustrated you?”

After a small pause, he replied “Maybe a bit of both,” attempting to match her playfulness but not managing it. “Today’s fleet is a bit hungrier for the blood of Minmatar crews than it is our operational objectives. I fear the fleet is being led by a Wraith.”

Meara understood Canaith’s use of the term wraith. He was referring to a Capsuleer who was so bored of life and detached from New Eden that the only quest for satisfaction that remained to him was the fight. There were far too many Capsuleers to whom the term applied. To Canaith, this was a form of madness, and it was in Canaith’s effort to resist this madness that he so doggedly pursued a noble purpose.

“Is the fleet not commanded by Kanari?” she asked. Kanari, a newer fleet commander in the warzone, had become one of Canaith’s favorites precisely because Kanara put a higher priority on progressing the war’s objectives than he did the pursuit of violence.

“Not today,” he said, wrapped in something like resignation. “I fear that much of Kanari’s efforts yesterday are being tossed aside by squirrel chases today.”

“I see,” she said regretfully, but then more hopefully, “I will be returning soon. Would you like to take a break from your duties in Auga to run some Advantage operations?”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” came his missive, wrapped in relief and gratitude.

As the connection closed, Meara felt a flood of thankfulness wash over her. Canaith could run advantage sites without her, but it always seemed important to him for her to be there. In Canaith’s service, she always felt needed, and not because her duties as a pilot were essential. Canaith did not need her piloting skills, or even her competence as his operations manager in Domain. Canaith needed her, Meara Natinde. He needed her devotion, her understanding, and her company, all of which she was pleased to provide. Before Canaith Lydian, she had never felt needed by anyone, and even after all this time, she had not yet grown accustomed to it.

Just a few minutes later, Meara and Canaith conducted their trade of vessels, her Jackdaw for his Arbitrator, after which Canaith started off for Auga again with the intention of searching out Minmatar Rendezvous sites. Though the actual purpose of the Republic Fleet’s rendezvous with local rebels was kept a secret from the Militia, intercepting these meetings and disrupting them contributed towards the Amarr Militia’s advantage in a system, which was reflected in a cryptic metric called System Advantage that was reported by data scientists of the 24th Imperial Crusade. Canaith and Meara had played a role in defining the tactics needed to locate and intercept the rendezvous, and they both continued to wage what Canaith called the Advantage War.

Meara ran a simulation of her newly acquired Arbitrator and chuckled when she saw her measly numbers for estimated damage. Canaith’s effectiveness in the ship was easily 50% greater than hers. Instead of giving the ship a try, she modified her automated training queue and undocked in her Coverts Ops ship, an Anathema called From the Mists. She would pilot the Arbitrator another day.

Instead, she ran through the systems from Huola to Auga, scanning out expected rendezvous locations and reporting them as bookmarks that were broadcast to the Alliance. Canaith would pick up her broadcast and intercept the Rendezvous without having to scan it first.

This did not take long, and within half an hour she found herself docked in Auga with little to do. Thirty minutes later, Canaith was flying with the Militia again in Auga, this time running frigate skirmishes to disrupt the Minmatar Militia’s efforts. When she asked if she could help with anything, he had told her to rest. She politely obeyed, feeling no guilt at the lightness of her load while Canaith labored on. Fighting was not usually her role, and besides, she did not fulfill his need of her by being just like him.

As she checked on a variety of reports, she once again felt a wave of thankfulness, and then took her mind back to the time before her first death, before she was needed by anyone. She took her mind back to the days of her youth; a time when she was scarcely noticed by anyone at all.


Several Years Ago, Before Meara’s First Death

Meara Natinde was one of seven children born to Aragisha and Bartime Natinde. She had but two brothers and five sisters, all of whom were older than she but for one, her youngest sister Malva.

The Natinde family was one who had struggled for generations to maintain their social standing, and being a family who did not have much to offer in terms of military, industrial, or financial value, it most often sought to make a name for itself by its strict adherence to Amarr religion. Every dot and tiddle was taught, enforced, and preached, and it ironically became the family’s pride and joy.

Every Amarr individual had what was unofficially coined an Imperial Face, the public-facing image that one was obliged to project to demonstrate one’s conformity to the Amarr religion. In most families, the Imperial Face could be relaxed within the private confines of one’s home, at least to a reasonable degree. This was considered a psychological necessity within most Amarr subcultures because the projection of one’s Imperial Face was difficult, especially for children.

This was not the case for the Natinde family, however, who had forgotten that the Imperial Face was the projection of an ideal, and that a full-time manifestation of the ideal was an utter impossibility, especially for children. The training of religion in the Natinde household was done out of a broken sense of social necessity, and its focus was twofold. A child first learned what it meant to project orthodoxy. Second, a child learned how to demonstrate piety by judging the projected orthodoxy of those younger than themselves.

This tradition rolled downhill from eldest to youngest, growing more difficult for each new child in the family. As the youngest of seven, life became particularly difficult for Meara and Malva. These two sisters spent their days being scolded by five angry siblings who used verbal and physical lashings to demonstrate their own worthiness back up the family chain.

If anyone outside the family had been able to view this dangerous twist of Amarr tradition, they would have wanted to rescue all the children, but particularly the youngest of them, whose days were devoid of all hope and solace.

The single mercy in the Natinde household was Meara’s rejection of her role as Malva’s direct mentor, which her elder siblings and parents viewed as the ultimate disobedience. Her failure to share in the sad game became her great sin, her rejection of a tradition that had lasted for generations. From this beginning, the family grew adept at using Meara’s imagined failures as a cover for everyone else’s real ones. To shore up their own reputations, the entire family worked doubly hard to denigrate hers.

As for Malva, once she was old enough to understand her siblings’ game, she spared herself a little pain by aligning herself with her other siblings against Meara. This deft maneuver by the youngest child was somehow viewed as a vindication of the family’s wrath against Meara’s lack of craftiness.

On Meara’s part, she tried to make things work through all manner of peacemaking and obedience to every new tenant or rule. There was no redemption for her, however, in the eyes of her family and the social order within which the family operated. She was lovely. It did not matter. She evidenced talent and intelligence. That did not matter. The family had decided that her disobedience to their ridiculous perversion of faith had dismissed her worth to the family and the world.


I am enjoying reading these entries, keep it up :+1:

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Coming of Age

Two-hundred and fifty-seven graduating students were gathering at Sadel’s Shuttle Port for their first real pilgrimage to Amarr. Sadel was a small colony on Sadye IX, and it was in this colony that the Natinde family had lived for a handful of generations. To have so many children of Sadel graduating in the same year was both a boast of the colony and a cause for embarrassment, because several small scandals had plagued the colony regarding their surging population over the last two decades.

The pilgrimage was a tradition, even though the trip itself was more expensive than the colony could afford. To offset the increasing costs, a new tradition had been taking shape over the last few years: arranged marriages with more wealthy families across the Domain region. Many of Sadel’s students would not be returning home from their pilgrimage, particularly those without family claims. These would instead be delivered to the families into which they were to be wed. The consistent population growth coupled with an increasingly effective process for establishing off-world marriages had developed into what some viewed as the Sadye system’s most valuable exported commodity, though those who held the view were wise enough not to speak such things aloud.

This situation gave some of those coming of age in Sadel a chance to escape the colony in which they had been raised. The Natinde family was not the only one who had a harsh view of religious and social behavior in the colony, and many of the young adults of Sadel shared with each other the dream of escaping their current lot through marriage, particularly the young women, who outnumbered Sadel men to an unfortunate degree.

Meara Natinde, whose life in Sadel had been particularly harsh, was not one of these hopeful women. She had given up on hope well before her coming of age. Meara had been surprised even to learn that she was being permitted to go on the pilgrimage. “This family will support our community’s traditions even for you,” had been her Mother’s explanation.

So, like the others who shared her age, Meara was waiting to board the ship that would travel across a sea of stars to visit Amarr itself. She sat by herself a few meters away from any of the others, many of whom were struggling to hold their excitement behind their Imperial Face. Meara listened to the chatter, taking care not to be noticed and hoping to hear some bit of news that would help her to prepare for what was her very first adventure. As it turned out, the only news anyone had were rumors of prior trips, the events of which were shared by older siblings who had gone before. Meara had heard none of these rumors, for even though her older siblings had eventually grown tired of their taunts and tortures, they certainly did not speak to her.

Finally, the school’s representative came to stand before them with a few members of a religious order who would serve as the students’ guides through their coming pilgrimage. Schedules were dispatched to the students’ devices that revealed a variety of tours and religious services. As had been expected, uniforms would be distributed as soon as they boarded their ships. Little would be needed in the way of luggage or provisions.

After a few remaining announcements and a few minutes of prayer, students were called by name into several lines and the process of boarding shuttles commenced. The shuttle’s destination was a civilian transport ship that would carry the students to a space station in Jerma, from which they would be transferred to a much larger vessel to travel all the way to Amarr. With very few exceptions, the students sustained their Imperial Faces well, though the excitement concealed behind these social masks was already creating a wonderful experience for everyone. In Meara’s case, she found herself fighting back excited tears more than once. This day had already been the most enjoyable day of her life, and she had not even boarded a shuttle.


Elevated Mood

Meara was seated in a small aerodynamic shuttle that, contrary to her expectations, was not taking them into space. Instead, it was scurrying across the Sadye IX landscape towards the planet’s Space Elevator. Though Meara knew that this structure existed, she knew little about it, and the sight of the thing almost overwhelmed her as the shuttle crossed Sadye IX’s northern hemisphere, bringing it into view. It looked like a giant ambilocal that was attaching her world to the universe.

Much to her surprise, Meara had been able to secure a window seat in the craft, but only because most of the students were more concerned about who they sat next to than the view. But what a view it was. As the shuttle grew closer to the massive structure, she could catch glimpses of a transportation system that travelled in space-bound and planet-bound directions within the structure at the same time, and that the structure was not rigid, but flexible. It swayed in long, slow waves as if gently dancing with the atmospheric winds. Meara was spellbound by it.

The shuttle’s landing was abrupt, and the motion affected more than a handful of the students in slightly embarrassing ways. Some grew pale, and others grew slightly nauseous. Meara was not affected, and even would have liked to have done that again.

The students hurried along to conveyers that smoothly and quickly fed them into a receiving office for the Space Elevator. While staff processed ticket purchases and exercised customs procedures, Meara took everything in. Groups of people waited for doors to open, after which a group of twenty or so would walk into a circular “car.” They placed their luggage into a circular bin in the center of the car and then stepped back into recessed areas along the outside wall of the car. Meara struggled to see what those recessed areas contained, but the crowds and the viewing angle denied her a view of them.

The students lined up in groups of 20 as assigned by a small group of chaperones and student leaders. Meara was in the sixth group, the members of which grew increasingly silent as each group in front of them departed. Each student’s expression bore the practiced stoicism of their Imperial Face, the perfection of which was ironic evidence of the excitement or anxiety growing within them. The attendants, having less to prove than the students, showed their annoyance with the heavy number of passengers.

“This is supposed to be a backwater planet,” one of them groaned. “Where are they all coming from?”

The annoyance served the attendants well, for it conveyed the threat of consequences should the students fail to follow instructions. The resulting fear drove the students to watch, listen, and respond far faster than one might expect from such fledgling travelers. By the time Meara’s group entered the elevator, the group had watched and learned enough to know what would be expected of them. They dashed into the car, stashed their scant luggage, and moved into the recessed areas along the circular wall in record time.

The recessed areas contained a semi-private space with an optional chair that could be stowed or extended at the press of a button. With or without the chair, there was a strap to hold onto and another that snapped around the waist. A digital sign beside the chair indicated clear instructions as to how to setup the alcove and fasten oneself in. It also bore what was obviously a countdown timer showing that ten seconds remained until launch.

Meara decided to stand and strapped herself in. Five seconds later, the doors to the car closed as the luggage bin in the center of the car descended out of view. With a loud whooshing sound, the car launched speedily upward. Meara heard gasps and exclamations from several of the students in the car with her, which may have been seen by some as a crack in their Imperial Face, which to Meara seemed completely reasonable.

The display to Meara’s left changed to indicate instructions on the wearing of an anti-nausea device that was mounted on Meara’s right, and Meara found it humorous that the instructions had not been shown before the car’s abrupt departure. She decided that she did not need hers but could catch glimpses of movement by students across the car who were choosing to use theirs. The display flashed a few times as if strongly encouraging her adherence to the instructions, and so she complied.

The device fit over her nose and was connected to its holder by a clear tube. As soon as it was in place, she detected something blowing through it like cool air. Within a handful of seconds, pains she had not known that she had disappeared and a sense of released tension washed over her. She found herself wishing she had chosen the chair, but before she could even think about doing anything about it the display changed again.

Entering Acceleration Booster in 5 Seconds

Before Meara had the chance to consider what an acceleration booster might be, the car launched with a shake and the sound of an explosion of some kind. There were no gasps or screams this time, as most of the students in the car were clenching their teeth. Meara was delighted to discover that even without the chair she was safe from falling, as gravity pushed her onto a well-designed slope in the alcove’s wall.

The display, a bit late again, changed to say Entering Acceleration Booster.

After a handful of minutes, the pressure of gravity eased and the noise in the car subsided until a pleasant white noise from a combination of several cooperating mechanisms was all that remained. By now, all anxiety that the students might have been feeling had been washed away by the medication being administered via their “anti-nausea devices.” The gentle white noise was just icing on the cake.

Meara was delighted beyond words. The sense of adventure and expectation was new to her, and she found herself looking forward to whatever was going to happen next. At this point, it seemed too late to take this experience away from her. She was out of her family’s reach, at least for now. She felt another surge of excited tears, and safe as she was from the judgement of those who would see the crack in her Imperial Face, she did not hold them back.


Reaching Space

The Sadye system was an obscure, lowly populated solar system, so much so that a real space station had never been built there. This meant that Sadye IX’s space elevator ended in a platform that could service one or two transport ships at most. Its only feature was the ability to maintain an orbit and serve as the entry and exit point to the planet below. As orbital structures go, it was a pitiful thing, unless you were one of two-hundred and fifty-seven graduating students from the Sadel Colony.

Those students were lined up with their carry bags along the 150-meter length of the Platform’s interior, waiting eagerly to board their transport. As the sedatives they had been given aboard the Space Elevator wore off, the excitement of seeing their home planet outside of a series of viewports pushed aside years of education as Imperial Faces gave way to childlike, wide-eyed wonder. Adding to the experience was the student’s exposure to the crew of the Transport, many of whom were from faraway places and foreign cultures. Most of the students had scarcely encountered people from outside worlds, but even though the chaperones had to discourage some staring and the pointing of fingers, the overall behavior of the students was polite.

When the noise level from the dozens of excited conversations in the place became hard to bear, a couple of the chaperones led the students in singing quiet songs of thankfulness, which turned the excitement of the students in a more orderly direction. The familiarity of the songs brought those who had become too excited by all the new experiences back to themselves, and the beautiful sound of almost three hundred harmonizing voices calmed even the crews of the Orbital Platform and Transport, who were still working out how to cram so many people into the InterBus ship.

Meara stood staring out a nearby viewport, not at the planet below, but to the stars beyond. The music that filled the interior of the Orbital Platform was a hymn of thanksgiving that Meara had sung hundreds of times. This time, though, something stirred within her at the words. She was feeling very thankful, but for what exactly? Thankful to be away from home? “Maybe,” she thought, though it felt like something deeper than that. “I am thankful for hope, I think.”

She looked up to find that one of the chaperones had noticed that she was not singing. She bowed her head in apology and added her voice to the music. The chaperone bowed back in acknowledgement and moved on.

When Meara entered the InterBus Transport, she was surprised to find that every seat was already occupied. An attendant pointed to an area where she could stand and hold onto a vertical rail. It was standing room only by the time the other students boarded, and the only thing that made the situation livable was the discipline that had been hammered into all 257 students. Conformity, always important to the citizens of Sadel, was especially important today. None of the students wanted to give anyone an excuse to leave them behind. This was especially true of Meara, who was having the time of her life.

Once the crew of the InterBus was satisfied that their passengers were likely to survive the trip, the Transport detached from the Orbital Platform and started its relatively short journey to Jerma. In less than an hour’s time, the students would be delivered to a Theology Council Tribunal station, and their pilgrimage would finally begin.


The Theology Council Tribunal Station

Two-hundred and fifty-seven students stood in a protective huddle, staring wide-eyed at the interior of the first space station any of them had ever seen. They were standing just outside of the station’s major Concourse, and it looked as if it went on forever. It seemed impossible that anything “indoors” could be so immense. Most of the students were clinging to their small carry bags as if they were hiding behind them. Every one of them suddenly felt very small.

Just as the students seemed about to break and run, Master Khorash, one of the student’s favorite teachers, stood in front of them and stood in a pose that the students immediately recognized. With his arms raised above his head, standing with his eyes closed, he was calling them to assembly.

The familiarity once again brought the young adults back to themselves, and everyone rushed to their places. In almost no time at all, the students stood in a formation divided into 4 cohorts, three of which were female and the last of which was male. The students dropped their carrying bags at their feet and mimicked Master Khorash’s pose.

With his voice slightly amplified, their teacher started the assembly’s Call to Worship, a liturgy that every one of the students knew by heart. He prayed a ritual prayer of thanksgiving for their safe arrival, followed by a ritual prayer of praise. The students were whispering his prayers along with him, and the sound, to any Amarr, would have been familiar and beautiful.

As the students began to sing the Morning Hymn, small groups of bystanders sang it with them. At the song’s end, when all the students opened their eyes, they found themselves surrounded by a small throng of people who had their arms raised with them. This affected a calm sense of welcome in the students, whose fear of so large and unfamiliar a place was displaced by the strength of unity.

“Who are you?” asked Master Korash.

“We are Children of Amarr,” answered the students in unison.

“What do you fear?” asked Master Korash.

“Pure thought,” they answered. “We do not want to think alone.”

“Then stand with your Amarr family, fulfill your destiny, and do not be afraid,” he proclaimed.

“We will not be afraid,” they answered with enough force to make everyone who heard them think they meant it.

After that, everyone lowered their arms. Student leaders took their places at the head of every cohort, and the students began an orderly march behind Master Khorash. Bystanders along the way waved at them, but the students did not wave back. They had not been given that permission. The bystanders were not offended. Instead, they appreciated the students’ demonstration of obedience.

Given the advanced transportation system in the station, the long walk through the Concourse was unnecessary, but the students were being given a chance to stretch their legs and to see the sights of the station up close and with their own eyes. Eventually, the students turned into a wide, ornate entrance to a section of the station that bore the sign Theology Council Visitor’s Chapel. Ahead of them was an exceptionally large and beautiful place of worship. To the right and the left were large, open doorways that led to male and female dormitories.

Representatives of the chapel attached themselves to each cohort of students and led them to a dormitory. The dormitory room was a long bay with rows of bunk beds with lockers for belongings. As instructed, the students opened their lockers and donned the clothing they found inside. It included everything they would need to wear for their entire trip.

Meara was pleased. She found in her locker a simple but soft set of underclothes to be worn under a long tunic that clearly indicated that she was on a pilgrimage. There were soft low boots that were much better than what she was used to wearing. Finally, there was a brooch that served as a tracking locator that had a call function she could use if she ever found herself in trouble.

“Do not ever use that call button unless you are lost or in danger,” they were told. “Hold the button for nine seconds and station security will find you. When they find you, they had better find you in need,” came a stern warning.

Once everyone was changed, the students were all led to a reception area where they were fed a simple meal and briefed about the plans for the next two days. Meara did some quick mental math and was stunned to realize how far they would be traveling over the next two days. It was surreal. They would be so far from home in terms of distance, yet so close in terms of time. It was like living in two dimensions at the same time.

Once the meal was over, the students were led into the Sanctuary for an evening service. The sanctuary itself was far larger and more beautiful than that to which the students were accustomed, but it was familiar enough to convey its intended message:

Yes, they were from their own colony, but they were all connected through their beliefs and their traditions to something far greater.

Once the service was over, the students were dismissed for what was called “free time,” which meant that they had a few minutes to themselves before “lights out,” or the time at which they would all be required to go to bed. Most of the students ran off with their friends, either to grab a quick snack or to just chatter away about all that they were experiencing. Meara, however, who had few friends, stayed in the Sanctuary, content with the silence and the chance to think about all that had happened on this eventful day.

“And who might you be?” came a voice that interrupted her thoughts.

Startled, Meara looked up to see a priest standing over her, or, at least, someone who looked like a priest. When she realized who – or what – the man was, her gaze immediately fell away from him. For just a second, she felt trapped, and the resulting anxiety slipped into her expression.

“Excuse me, Child,” the man spoke with gentleness. “I did not mean to startle you.”

Meara composed herself and reconstructed her Imperial Face. She had been trained on the proper way to address a priest.

“Oh, no, Father,” she said, bowing politely but holding his gaze. “Please excuse me. I should have noticed you.”

The priest bowed back, and then to Meara’s surprise, he sat in the pew next to her.

“Now,” he said, “what is your name? Who is it that I am addressing?”

Meara felt a touch of embarrassment or shame – she could never really tell the difference – and replied, “I am Meara Natinde, Father, and am on a pilgrimage to Amarr.”

“Well, that is a start, Meara, but who are you?”

Meara was surprised by the question and her mouth moved as quickly as the answer came to her, before her training could tell it to stop. “Well, I am nobody, Father. I hardly matter at all.”

The priest did not like her answer, though Meara did not know why exactly. He did not seem angry at her, precisely, but was certainly displeased.

“But Meara,” he said, looking her right in the eyes, “are you not a Child of Amarr?”

For all her life, Meara had heard the teachings, participated in worship, and learned the rituals of her religion. This, however, was the first time anyone had hinted that the wonderful things she had learned honestly applied to her. Her Imperial Face cracked so that the priest was seeing the real Meara now. There was no mask, at least for now.

“I hope that I am,” she said. She wanted to look away, but his gaze was holding hers.

“Meara Natinde,” he said, continuing to look her directly in the eyes. “In this matter there is no hope required.” His eyebrows raised to encourage her to give him a different answer.

“I… am… a Child of Amarr,” she said, but it almost sounded like a question. This was not her morning assembly or her evening vespers. It was difficult to use the words from those liturgies in such a personal way.

You are, Meara Natinde. You are a Child of Amarr.” He put a hand on her shoulder and held it firmly. “And no child of Amarr ‘hardly matters at all.’ This pilgrimage is not designed to put you in your place, though I fear that is what others have been doing to you. This pilgrimage is designed to show you your place.”

Meara looked at him, her confusion made clear by her expression. “Is there a difference?” she asked, and it was obvious that she was not intending any offense.

The priest stood and gently moved a little bit away to give Meara her space. “Oh, yes, Meara, there is, and I hope the difference becomes clear by the time this pilgrimage is over.”

Smiling gently, he bowed politely and walked away.

Meara considered his words, and it was several seconds later that she realized that she had not bowed back.


The Journey to Amarr Begins

The students were awakened early for their morning assembly and a quick breakfast. The chapel representatives shot out some instructions that most of the students did not understand, but their teachers interpreted the “station speak” into steps the students followed diligently.

They were filed into a steady stream of small shuttles that travelled by hovering over guides built into the crossways of the station. Once the shuttles started moving, they glided along the course laid out by the guides but remained high enough above the ground to avoid being a hazard to pedestrians or other vehicles. They moved so quickly that the view from within the shuttles was little more than a blur.

In a very few minutes, the shuttles reached the end of the crossway guides where they slowed considerably and started an ascent into the interior of the station’s vast harbor. It was then that the students got to see the incredible view of a long series of individual ship moorings. There were rows of moorings set up for a variety of ship sizes, and though most of them were empty, others held a variety of ships, every one of which looked enormous to the students of Sadel.

After a time, the string of shuttles bearing the students and their teachers drew a straight line towards a ship that dwarfed the others. As Meara’s shuttle grew closer, all that could be seen out of the shuttle’s windows was the side of the ship, sliding like some enormous, mobile wall.

Their cohort’s Chapel representative stood at the front of their shuttle and said, “Students, we have been blessed with an opportunity for you. Your passage to Amarr has been booked aboard a Providence Freighter, piloted by a real Capsuleer.”

The look on the representative’s face indicated the students should be impressed, so they dutifully indicated by their faces that they were. They were impressed, but they would have been impressed by anything. Since protocol was important, though, and so even though they did not know why they should be especially impressed with a ship called a Providence that was piloted by a Capsuleer, they projected a variety of what they assumed was the appropriate degree of “wow” through their Imperial Faces.

Each shuttle boarded the gigantic Providence only long enough to drop off passengers, after which it quickly egressed to make room for the next. The students were ferried by yet another series of shuttles through the Providence’s massive interior, where they were carried to a large area towards the rear of the ship that was designated as Recreation Area 4. This room looked to be a large cafeteria and recreation area bounded by a large, open viewport through which the station’s interior could be seen out of the back of the ship. Two long rows of chairs had been set up along the window, and the students were excited when they realized that this had been set up especially for them.

A handful of crewmembers were talking to chaperones and teachers, pointing here and there, and saying all kinds of things that Meara could not hear. Once the teachers understood the arrangement that had been made, they directed students to take their seats among the many chairs. The students tended to sit according to their cohorts, though it did not seem to be required, and Meara took advantage of this gap in the social order to move quickly to a corner chair on the first row, as it gave the widest view outside the ship.

Once the students were seated, a uniformed man stood in front of the group and spoke to them. A digital image of the man was broadcast to 3 monitors on the wall, and his voice was amplified.

“Greetings, pilgrims!” he said. “I am the first officer of this vessel. Its name is Destiny’s Child, and we are happy to have you aboard.”

The students gave a gentle round of applause, to which the officer bowed his head politely.

“I would like to introduce you to our captain,” he continued. “He has provided your transportation as a gift and would like to say a few words.”

At that, a new face appeared on the three monitors. The man’s upper body was all that was visible. He had thick wires running down his face attached to him at his right temple. His skin appeared damp but was drying quickly before their eyes. Were it not for his warm smile, the students might have been afraid, for the man was quite a sight.

“Greeting, my…,” he said, though his voice was not clear and ended in a cough. He coughed a bit more, cleared his throat, and tried again. “Greetings, my friends. My name is Yendji Orosniwala, or at least it used to be. I was born in this system and began my own pilgrimage just like you when I was your age. I hear that you are from the Sadye system, right next to this one. That makes us neighbors.”

The students murmured a bit in excitement. This was the first Capsuleer any of them had ever met, and he considered them his neighbor. It seemed funny to Meara that this man would consider them neighbors when they lived so many light years away, but then she realized that to this man who could travel the stars, they were mere minutes away from their home.

“We are not a passenger ship, but I hope you will find this area enjoyable as we travel. What you see outside of these windows is the aft view of the ship. Each monitor on the wall will show you a different view. We will be travelling through a series of eight CONCORD controlled jump gates between this system and Amarr. The entire trip will take less than an hour, so keep your eyes open.”

There was another series of murmurs from the students until a teacher turned his head bearing an expression that they all knew too well. Afterward, there was nothing but polite silence.

“Alright, then,” he continued. “We will be undocking in a handful of minutes.”

And with that, all three monitors flipped to various views of the station outside the ship.

Master Theris, who usually wore the grumpiest of faces, stood and gave them a hand signal they had known all of their lives. Roughly translated, it meant “you may speak quietly with each other, but if the noise gets out of hand there will be quiet time.” Yes, it was a signal intended for small children, but the young adults still understood the gist of it.

Then there was a rumbling sound and a pull that felt like a subtle change in gravity. Everyone felt just a little bit heavier. When Destiny’s Child started moving, they felt nothing. They only knew they were moving because of what they could see outside the ship. Remarkably, the Providence moved into line with other ships through what could only be viewed as a taxiway. Meara could hardly accept the idea of just how big everything was, and yet it all was moving.

Then, without any detection of motion or anything different at all, they saw the outside of station from their viewports, stretching as far as the eye could see in all directions. They had undocked. Within a handful of seconds, there was a whooshing sound. Their view was all a blur, and a second later the station was a small blip, far, far away.

A sound from the monitor said Insta-warp complete. Aligning to Sadye gate.

The view outside started shifting, and a little more than a minute later, the monitor’s audio said Warping…

And just like that, the students’ trip to Amarr was underway.


An Unpleasant Surprise

Meara was captivated by everything she was witnessing. The liquid view of space while the ship was in warp, the view of the massive jump gates as their ship moved away from them, the warships orbiting those gates, the creaking of their Freighter when it adjusted its course before warp, and everything else… these were things of which she had read and seen on vids, but to see it with her own eyes shook her to the core. She had a world view constructed from the perspective of one lonely girl in one small colony. What she was seeing now was opening her eyes to something profound, though she did not yet see it clearly. What she did realize was that she had been seeing life from the inside of a tiny box.

Seven times they jumped between systems, and with every jump Meara realized that they had leapt to a distance so far away that it could not even be perceived. The experience was gentile, quiet, and hardly noticeable on the outside. In Meara’s mind, however, it was a bit terrifying, a bit lonely, and a bit wonderful, all at the same time.

Someone sneezed, and the sound woke Meara from her thoughts. She was standing by the window, though she could not remember ever leaving her seat. She looked back at the other students and was surprised to see some of them in tears, some of them with their hands over their mouths, and some hiding their faces behind their hands. A few of them, those Meara knew to be shallow thinkers, were rolling their eyes at the reactions of the other students.

The teachers and chaperones were splitting their attention between what they saw out of the viewport and the reactions of the students. Meara saw a knowing look on the masters’ faces, as though they had expected this reaction. Meara thought it strange that they were allowing such a display of emotion to continue.

It was then that it occurred to her that everything they had been doing on this trip was by design, all of it an intentional effort to show the students something important. She smiled at Master Khorash as she wondered how often he had taken students on this journey and how many times he had witnessed his pupils’ reaction to extended space travel. When he noticed her, she bowed her head. He bowed back and smiled, having understood her appreciative gesture.

He mouthed the words, “Who are you?” to her, but then looked away without waiting for an answer. This seemed odd to Meara at first, but then she remembered that this was the second time on this journey that someone in authority had asked her that question.

Meara turned her head back to the viewport just as the Providence came out of warp. The monitors revealed another gate ahead of them, only this one was surrounded by objects that had to be ships. By the time the Providence approached the gate, the objects were out of view from the monitor looking forward, but they could be seen on the monitors that displayed views from port and starboard. Alongside the large warships that the students had seen at every gate were a dozen smaller ships, all of which were moving towards the gate much faster than their Providence.

As each ship entered the gate, the gate emitted a flash, and then the ships were gone.

“This one is it!” someone said. “This is the jump to Amarr.”

Destiny’s Child approached the gate and traveled into its massive center where it jumped. The effect was not new to the students anymore, but it captivated them still. They watched the bending of space, oddly viewing behind the ship instead of the front. And then with a slap, the view became solid around them again.

As their ship travelled away from the gate, some of the ships that the students had seen in Sarum Prime could be seen again, moving quickly in a swarm towards Destiny’s Child. Then there was a shudder and a crackling sound. The space surrounding their viewport shimmered, and for the first time the students could feel the movement of their ship.

Audio from the monitors emitted several broken communications between various crew members. Not much of it made any sense, but there was a word that was repeated more than a few times. This word was gankers.

Alarms started sounding throughout the ship, and armored shutters closed over the student’s viewport. The students were too stunned to react. Their teachers and chaperones moved to various positions where they could be seen, and then looked around as if trying to find someone who could give them instructions. The ship shuddered again, and the crackling sound gave way to the sound of tearing metal. Nobody knew what was happening or what to do.

A crew member ran through the rec room door, gathered himself, and said, “Can you please follow me to the escape pods?”

Few of the students could hear what he said, but those who had heard him made excited squeaks and cries. The teachers who heard him made a visible effort to secure their Imperial Faces before shouting instructions. It was chaos.

The crew member waved his arms in the universal sign for “hurry, please,” and the teachers did their best to facilitate his request. As the students crowded the door, the crew member’s eyes grew wide. Meara did some mental math and realized what the crew member must have concluded: it was going to take a lot of time to move two-hundred and fifty-seven students anywhere.

Meara was at the far end of the room but was oddly unafraid until the ship shook badly enough to throw many in the room to the ground. There was a deep ripping sound that ended in a series of explosions. Gravity in the room shifted, pulling everyone away from the door with a lurch. It seemed to everyone that this was going to be the end of them.

But then the gravity in the room corrected itself and the alarms stopped.

“Armor is holding,” said a voice from the monitor. “CONCORD has arrived,” it said. Then there was a flurry of chatter that sounded so confident that it gave the students hope.

The armored shutters slowly opened, and from their viewport they could see the jump gate becoming smaller as a fleet of fearsome warships rained laser fire on a few of the remaining pirate vessels. Within a few seconds, not one of them remained.

Every time a ship had exploded, something small could be seen zipping away a few seconds later. That is when it dawned on Meara that the pirates that had just tried to destroy them were Capsuleers. She had heard of pirate Capsuleers and felt a sadness that people she did not even know had sought to destroy her without a thought.

Just a few seconds later, Destiny’s Child entered warp again. Within a few more seconds, everything in their rec room was just as it had been before the attack except that the room was littered with almost three hundred chairs and one of the wall monitors had gone dark. By the time that their freighter came out of warp to dock at a station, most everyone had calmed down and started tending to the few of them who had suffered injury.

As Destiny’s Child made its way through the interior of the station, several crew members came to escort the students to the transport system that would get them to exit locations. The crew seemed eager to get the students away, and Meara expected the reason why had something to do with the desire to let go of any responsibility for them.


True Unity

Two-hundred and fifty-seven initiate pilgrims from Sadel were seated in the Assembly Hall of Training Center Complex 468 in the Theology Council Tribunal Station in Amarr. This was their third day at the Theology Council Tribunal station in Amarr, the first two of which involved settling into their dormitories, touring a variety of museums and offices, and participating in a multitude of worship services. This day, however, was the beginning of a seminar called Who Am I? The students were told that it would be life-changing for many of them.

The assembly hall was full, and Meara’s head did the math to conclude that there were almost ten-thousand people in attendance. These same people had been on the tours and in the worship services, and it had been quite an experience for Meara and the others from Sadel. She had been moved close to tears quite a few times, though she was struggling to identify exactly why.

A hushed silence came upon the crowd when an especially important-looking person was stepping into an ornate lectern at the end of the assembly hall. When he stepped onto it, it glided to the center of the stage. The lights in the hall dimmed, leaving a pleasant glow about the lectern and its speaker. When he spoke, his voice was incredibly audible, the acoustics perfect.

You are here to fulfill a tradition that in some communities has existed for many generations. The value of these traditions is that they continue something that was born of a worthy cause. It meant something to someone, who codified the experience to be handed down to you.

The risk of blind obedience to a tradition, however, is that you are all here in obedience to tradition, but you are potentially separated from the worthy cause that gave it birth. If you are here in obedience to the tradition but are not fully sharing in the experience the tradition’s authors intended, you are not alone. This would be true of most of the people who are here.

To help prepare you to connect to the worthy cause of this gathering, all of you should have been asked a question by now. The person who asked it might have been a Teacher, a Counselor, or a Priest, but by now every one of you should have been asked this question.

As a show of faith, I am going to ask you what that question was, and all of you shall answer me. Be ready now, because here I come. What question have you all been asked?

“Who are you?” the whole congregation said at once, looking at each other in surprise.

Every one of you, like every parent’s child, has been asked that question over and over for your entire life. And you have given the same answer, the answer that every one of you has been taught to give.

In the liturgy of our tradition, ‘Who are you?’ is a question posed to the congregation. It is not a personal question, which is why the liturgical answer to that question is from the congregation. Let us demonstrate what I mean.

Who are you?

“We are Children of Amarr,” replied a chorus of ten-thousand voices. It was a stirring sound, and Meara had to fight back another set of tears, though she still did not know why.

Do you see? I ask the question to all of you at once, and so your answer is ‘We are Children of Amarr.’

This week you will be focusing on a similar question, but it is not a question for the congregation gathered here. It is to each one of you individually. You will not say your answer aloud when I ask this question of you because the answer is for you only. This is an important question, and one that will make a profound difference in your life, your purpose, and your happiness. But before I ask you this question, let me place some groundwork for you. Let me explain why this question is so important.

All of you, until recently, were children. You have been underage. And in matters pertaining to order and righteousness you have been a slave to the law of Amarr. I say you have been a slave because I know the Law, and I know that everyone here is obligated to it, and I know that there are times when the Law is a harsh master. It is harsh, but it is good, because without the law to guide Amarr we would stop striving for purity, and order, and the Amarr vision.

While you were children, the law has been your guardian, your trustee, and your guide. Without it, you would have strayed into the loneliness of independent thought, and from there into sin, and from there chaos and ruin.

But the pursuit of Purity requires more than obedience of deed. It requires more than lip service from your voice. It requires more than a perfect adherence to liturgy. There is something more noble and pure than being a mere slave to these things.

And you might want to know what this is, but I expect you might ask that question with fear and trembling, because it is hard to know what more one could give than perfect obedience. You might expect me to say that you must give your life, but obedience to the law already demands your life. You might expect me to say that it would require a sacrifice of your station or your means, but obedience to the law requires this of you already. What is required in our pursuit of purity is something that neither I nor any priest can decree, and there would be no effective way to enforce any decree of it that I might make.

‘So, what does our pursuit of purity require?’ you might ask. ‘What can we give that the law has not already taken?’

Your personal pursuit of purity requires you to believe with all your heart, or as much of your heart as you can resolve into belief, that you are a child of Amarr. And hear me, Children! When I say ‘you’ I do not mean the congregation. I mean each of you individually, deep within the part of you that protocol requires you to hide.

Our liturgy can claim you to be Amarr’s children. We can command your hands to show it. We can command you to say it and teach it. But if your belief is not real then you can obey our commands and still not believe!

We could use technology to implant belief. We could give you someone else’s memories to coerce your belief. But such use of technology or the borrowing of another’s memories is in no way pure. What an irony it would be to pursue purity without purity.

So long as you fail to believe that you are a Child of Amarr, an heir to our Destiny, and a contributor to our Divine Purpose, you remain in your mind a slave of Amarr and not its Child.

Conformity is good, as is obedience, but slaves can conform and obey. A Child of Amarr conforms and obeys because the Child of Amarr loves Amarr. A Child of Amarr has Amarr as his or her fundamental essence. Can you see the purity of unity when we are not merely conforming as slaves, but are conformed in the belief of our hearts?

So, for the rest of today and most of tomorrow, each of you shall be taught and tested, not to prove your worthiness or your obedience to others, but to prove something to yourself. It is my hope and my prayer that by the time you leave you will embrace deep within your own faith the most wonderful truth that you have spoken with your mouth your whole life.

And with that, the lecture was over. Something was breaking lose within Meara at these words, and this time she could not hold back a single tear that streamed down her face.


The First Test

When the students returned to their Dormitory rooms after lunch, every person found boxes that contained a metal circlet and an instruction card on their beds. The instructions read as follows:

Seminar Self-Evaluation Instructions

  1. Remove your outer tunic and hang in locker
  2. Remove your boots but leave socks on
  3. Wear circlet upon your head, ensuring that the disks found on either side fit over your temples
  4. Lie down on bed in a comfortable position
  5. Say the word “calibrate” three times
  6. When calibration completes, say “begin seminar” three times
  7. When your session ends, place your seminar circlet back into its box
  8. Secure the box in your locker
  9. Replace your outer tunic
  10. Meet your cohort at the dining hall

The Amarr were very good at writing detailed instructions.

Meara read through the instructions three times, practicing each step in her mind. She had the feeling that it was important to follow the instructions to the letter, because she did not know what the self-examination was or when exactly it had started.

She followed step 1, step 2, and then closely donned her circlet, and was relieved to find that it was not hard to locate the disks “found on either side” and that the disks were easy to align over her temples. She looked at herself in a mirror hanging on the wall and appreciated that the circlet looked like jewelry.

Step 4 took a bit of time because she had to fidget to find a comfortable position, but once the position was finally achieved, she spoke the word “calibrate” three times. By the time she had spoken the word thrice, she could hear her voice more in her mind than she could in the room.

Suddenly, Meara was not lying on her bed anymore, but was sitting in a chair in the middle of a large, dark space. She could see herself and the chair, but little else but some reflecting glares on the floor. Then words appeared in front of her.

Calibrating VR Device.... 

Look to the left

Look to the right

Look up

Look down 

Clasp your hands

Device calibration complete.

“Okay,” Meara said, “now for step 6. Begin seminar. Begin seminar. Beg…”

Dizziness swept over Meara as she felt a wave of electrical impulse that started in her head and flowed all the way to her toes. There were some mental pops and snaps in her head, like mental static, and then Meara began what she could only describe as a series of dreams.

The dream started with her crying on the floor of her childhood home in Sadel. She was about 5 years old and was surrounded by her older siblings. They were pretending to scold her for a multitude of sins that she did not understand. As each child completed a line of rebuke, they struck her legs with a switch broken off of a tree from their back yard. Each sibling took a turn rebuking, then switching, and all Meara could do was pull back and cry. Mother came into the room and Meara had a flash of hope that this sadistic game would end, but once Mother saw what was happening all she did was to say “Meara, quiet down! Your father is reading.” Then she left, and the rebukes and abuse continued. This time, Meara did not cry.

Then she was older, perhaps ten, walking into the house to find Malva, her younger sister, waiting for her. Meara was already afraid, because she could see a look in Malva’s eyes that she had seen before. Malva ran to stand up on a chair, where she pushed a sculpture of the Emperor from its place on a table. As it landed with a crash and broke into pieces, Malva hurried from her chair and started screaming, “Look what Meara did! Look what Meara did!” The room was soon filled with scolding children, who grabbed Meara roughly and dragged her to Mother to be punished.

Then she was about fourteen, entering a classroom at her school to find a boy named Zasen sitting at a desk. Zasen looked at her and smiled, which impressed Meara because Zasen was a boy that she admired. That was a happy moment, one in which Meara thought she might have made a friend. As she was leaving school, she saw Zasen being spoken to in whispers by two of her older sisters. Zasen saw her coming and quickly turned away.

Meara was feeling the panic that had taken her so many times throughout her childhood. She did not understand what she had done, but she just knew that she had to do better. Somehow, she had to please her family. She had to try harder. What was wrong with her?

The scene from her memory froze, and a voice spoke into her mind.

“Who are you, Meara Natinde?” it asked.

Meara’s anxiety welled up, and all she felt was shame.

“Child,” the voice said, warmly, “who are you?”

“I,” she said, fighting against the panic, “I am nothing. I am…”

“No,” the voice said, sternly but without anger. “This was your mother’s sin. It was not yours. Hers was not the way of righteousness. It was a corruption.”

Meara stopped, surprised at the words.

“As a child,” the voice continued, “fear was a reasonable reaction to your family’s abuse. What else did you have? But you are a child no longer. Look at these memories, Meara, and ask yourself, ‘Where was God?’”

Meara stopped and considered. She pulled herself from within the memories and attempted to observe them rather than relive them.

“He was there,” she said weakly.

“Yes, he was,” confirmed the voice.

“He was… he was…” she tried to find the words.

“He was preparing you,” the voice said with conviction. “And why would He trouble himself to do this?”

“Because” Meara said, but then faltered. “I don’t know…”

The dream changed to show Meara hiding under her bed, reading about Physics and Mathematics while her siblings fought with each other and looked for mischief. It showed her teaching herself to do mathematics in her head because it was something that was hers that the others could not take away. It showed her running for hours on trails in the forests behind their home. It showed Meara refusing to beat Malva with a stick when promised that if she did her own beatings would stop. And as she observed all of this, Meara was not afraid.

“Who are you, Meara Natinde?” the voice asked again.

Rather than reacting to her memories with the emotions of a child, she observed the… the upsides of it all. And, finally, she saw that the things that happened to Meara were not Meara’s fault.

“I am…” she started, “I am…”

“A part of God’s plan,” the voice said.

“Yes,” she answered.

“A child of Destiny,” the voice offered.

“Yes,” she answered, and a tear streamed down her face.

“Who are you, Meara Natinde?” the voice asked one last time.

“I am a Child of Amarr,” she answered, believing it for the first time, then she fell to her knees and cried, without restraint or fear of what others might see.

A new wave of dizziness washed over her, and Meara was back in the dark room seated on her chair. Before her, hanging in mid-air, were the words…

Session One Complete

Within a few seconds, she was back in RL, lying on her bed in her Dormitory. She put her hands to her eyes, but there were no tears. She sat up, feeling relaxed in a way she had never known before. Without thinking much about it, she executed steps seven, eight, and nine, and then left her room to head to the dining hall.

As Meara approached the others, she did so with her head held up a little higher. She even said “hello” to some people she encountered and smiled at them. Though a few of the others seemed annoyed at her sudden friendliness, the majority of them did not.


VR Sessions

After the evening meal, each cohort of pilgrims gathered with a Training Center Counselor to discuss the results of their first VR session. There were rules for discussion that were made very clear:

  1. The details of each experience were not to be shared.
  2. Prying into the experience of others was not permitted.

Then the counselor explained that there would be three more VR sessions the following day. The first would follow morning worship, the second would follow lunch, and the third would precede the evening meal. Time between sessions was to be devoted to meditation and exercise. The counselor encouraged each pilgrim to invest themselves fully into these activities.

So, after the morning service, Meara began her second VR session. This time, she spoke to the magical session voice about her family history. The voice compared what Meara knew about her family to the actual truth documented in the Book of Records. Meara was surprised to discover that her family had held a much more prominent position in the social order until the last four generations, and that it was a scandal that had demoted her great-grandfather, a rather accomplished scientist, to the Sadel colony.

Rather than focusing on the scandal, the session focused on the history before it. The voice drove the point home that Meara and her family were a part of Amarr History, and that they had a part to play in the future of the Empire as well. Meara came away with the understanding that she was a part of something greater than her dysfunctional family in Sadel. Her primary identity was not to come from her immediate family. She was Amarr first and a member of the Natinde family second.

The second VR session was about her DNA. An actual DNA and blood sample was taken through her circlet, and the results were mapped for her as she conversed with the AI voice in her head. It connected her genetic information to her family history, and highlighted some recessive genes that could be traced back through a line of Academics from the Hedion system. According to her DNA, Meara had an extraordinary potential for intelligence and athletics.

The emphasis of her conversation in the session was that she was Amarr down to the most fundamental elements of her being. The promises of the Amarr religion belonged to her as much as they did to anyone else.

The third session was a discussion of expectations and contentment. It walked Meara through the idea of destiny, that her position in life was no accident, and that the path to contentment was to realize that one’s station and purpose played a part in the destiny of Amarr. The voice of the session discussed the role of mercy, patience, and humility in achieving contentment. Yes, each person was a child of Amarr, but each person had been assigned a part to play. This was a necessary part of accepting one’s birthright without arrogance.

By the time the students of Sadel were gathered for the evening meal, Meara felt that she had changed. As she looked around at the other members of her graduating class, she thought she could see some changes in many of them, too. What she saw was subtle, viewed through the lenses of each Imperial Face, but Meara hoped she saw the same quiet confidence building in others that she felt was building within herself. She wanted this experience to be shared, as it gave her an affinity with others that she had always lacked.

When it was announced there was to be an evening service in the Assembly Hall, Meara found herself looking forward to it. She felt that she would be doing more than speaking words she had been commanded to say in the recitation of the liturgies. “And to do this in a crowd of ten thousand people…” she thought. It was going to be a special time, she was sure.


Possible DNA Match

The following morning was to be another round of VR Sessions, and Meara woke up excited to get started. Last night’s service had met her expectations, and she was grateful to finally feel like she was more than a shunned outsider. After breakfast, she practically ran back to her room to start the next session.

At the end of the calibration stage of her VR session, when she said the magic words, “Begin Seminar,” there was a brief blip of a message suspended in the air in front of her.

Seminar Scenario: Possible DNA Match

Then she found herself sitting at a desk with a hand-held device, upon which an application was running with a panel that said, “Aptitude Test: Sciences and Math”. Unlike all the other sessions, the setting was sparse. Everything that she was not seated on, wearing, or holding was pale grey. It looked like the UI designer never finished coding the environment.

Then the app on her device had a flashing button that said “Begin”. Meara pressed the button, and for the next few hours she was drilled on theoretical and practical science and mathematics. There was a timer that started counting with every question, so Meara pushed herself to answer quickly.

At first, Meara found herself disappointed by so mundane a session. She missed the spiritual guidance of the other sessions. Then, however, the questions became increasingly difficult and more fun. The questions stopped asking for things she had memorized previously, instead asking her to come up with ways of solving complex problems. Eventually, she was asked to solve problems related to the operation of complex machines, where she had to evaluate several independent processes that were all running at the same time. She found that she was enjoying this immensely.

Finally, she was confronted with complex machines that operated like robots that were in combat with other complex machines. The simulation would run for a few seconds and ask her to answer questions based on her estimation of the simulation’s state at a future time. First, it asked her to anticipate the state of the simulation in a few seconds. After those questions, it started asking her to anticipate the state after a few minutes. Finally, it asked her to evaluate which robot would win fights based on watching the simulation for varying lengths of time. Meara was enjoying every minute of it.

Then, however, a new combat simulation started running, and Meara was asked to direct changes to a robot’s behavior to guarantee its survival in the combat. Over time, more and more robot enemies were added to the puzzle, and Meara was asked to change one parameter at a time to direct her robot’s actions. There was no pause. There was no explanation. She had to react and learn as she went.

She had no idea how long the combat simulation ran, but eventually her robot was destroyed. It was frustrating.

And then, just like that, she was back in the calibration room. The words hanging in front of her said:



Unexpected Opportunity

Meara felt disoriented. Unlike all the other sessions, this one had presented no theme or provided no summation. She was not sure what had just happened, or what the session was attempting to show her.

She looked at a clock on her desk and saw that she had been in the session for six hours. Surprised, she hurried to store her circlet and put on her tunic, wondering where she should go now that she had missed lunch. Not knowing what else to do, she decided to head to the dining hall, which was the location the students would have been supposed to gather after the VR session.

When she opened her door, she walked into the inner square and was surprised to see her cohort assembled. Several of the students saw her approach and looked on with curious expressions. Master Theris (the grumpy teacher) was at the cohort’s head, but instead of rebuking her for her apparent tardiness, he bowed his head to her in greeting.

As she increased her pace to find her place with the other students, Master Theris shook his head and pointed discreetly to the dormitory entrance across the square. Master Korash (the favorite teacher) was there with a counselor Meara recognized from the Training Center and a man she did not. Unlike every else within the Center, Strange Man was not dressed in a traditional fashion. He looked out of place.

Master Korash noticed her and waved her over. As she approached, the Counselor smiled and looked like she was going to speak, but Strange Man talked over her.

“Good, you are here.” he said in a matter-of-fact kind of voice. “You are coming with us.”

Meara’s eyes grew wide, and she took a step backward. “What have I done?” she asked in a voice that was little more than a squeak.

The Counselor looked at the man with a stoic face and held her hand up to him in a gesture that said, “back off”.

“Miss Natinde,” she said warmly. “You have been marked as one to which we would like to administer some additional testing. We are not here because you have done anything wrong. To the contrary, you have made quite an impression on some very important people.”

Meara’s face was uncertain, so Master Korash stepped over and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Meara,” he said, “you are going to represent Sadel in a way that has never been done before. Please do your best, for by your effort you honor us all.”

Meara was stunned. When she looked back at the students across the square, Master Theris moved his hands in a patient gesture that meant “go on”. The students just looked confused.

Meara nodded and allowed herself to be led away. When she and her escorts exited the dormitory outer square, Strange Man started a conversation with some unseen person via an earpiece he wore. Whenever the counselor tried to speak with Meara, Strange Man’s voice was in the way. When the three of them arrived at the Training Center’s main entrance, Strange Man kept walking even when the Counselor stopped. Meara stopped somewhere between them.

“Well, come on,” Strange Man said. "Let’s keep moving.”

The counselor stepped forward with a hand raised in the “back off” gesture again and said, “This girl deserves to know what is happening. She has heard no explanation.”

The strange man looked bored. “You and I both know this is a waste of our time. I will do my job, but you and I both know that by bedtime tonight it will be like none of this happened. You know that I am right.”

“But the process guidelines are well-documented and quite clear…” the Counselor said.

“…and I do not give a damn,” he shot back.

The Counselor blanched, as did Meara, at so blatant a breach of protocol.

“Time to go,” he said, pointing at a private transport car that glided to a stop, hovering above the thoroughfare just a few inches above the ground.

The Counselor shook her head at Strange Man, but she smiled at Meara. “Do not mind him, Meara, and do not forget who you are.”

And with that, Meara was left alone with Strange Man.

He pointed to the car, gesturing for her to precede him. As she approached the vehicle, a man opened the back door and offered his hand to help her inside. Strange man entered on the other side of the car. When both doors were closed, Meara felt a few conflicting emotions. She felt afraid and alone but had to admit that she was excited by what she perceived to be another adventure. She smiled at herself, realizing how silly her situation was. She was alone with strangers who were taking her to an unknown destination for an unknown reason, and she was thinking of it as an adventure.

Strange Man saw her smile and he rolled his eyes. “No need for you to get your hopes up, Girl” he said, misunderstanding the reason for her smile. “You will be back here before you know it.”

The car lifted off the thoroughfare and glided along speedily. Meara’s eyes were taking in everything she saw.

“Here,” Strange Man said as he passed her a vial of clear liquid. “You need to take this to prepare for the session. Everything will go so much smoother if you drink this now rather than later.”

Meara looked at the vial and then to Strange Man, who had gone back to another conversation with someone via his earpiece. He looked over and gave an impatient gesture that Meara took to mean “do it now”.

So, she opened the cap on the small bottle and drank the contents in one gulp. The taste was not unpleasant, she decided, and resumed her gaze at the view outside the car. She was unconscious four minutes later.


Performance Test

Meara woke up to find herself strapped to a gurney that was hovering in the center of what appeared to be a hospital room. She was surprised to find that her clothing had been removed, though her nakedness was concealed by two towels laid over her. Her head was swimming, and she felt like consciousness was coming and going in waves.

A monitor was attached to her gurney, and it showed, among other things, her vital signs. Her heart rate was elevated, as though she had been running, and she realized that it felt to her like she had been. She tried to move, but stopped as soon as she felt a pain near her right temple. When she tried to raise to hand to her temple, she discovered that her arms were restrained.

There was a display monitor on the wall closest to her feet, and after several attempts to focus her eyes, was finally able to see what it displayed.

Pre-Screening Tests Suite A

Vision: PASSED

Hearing: PASSED

Blood Pressure: PASSED

Physical Conditioning: MARGINAL

Genetic Markers: PASSED

Intelligence: EXCEPTIONAL

Advanced Degree: NOT MET

Multi-Tasking: EXCEPTIONAL

Meara sensed movement to her right. A woman dressed in white was approaching her. To Meara, the woman looked like a nurse.

“Oh, not yet.” Nurse Lady said. “It is not time to wake up just yet.”

Nurse Lady fiddled with something outside of Meara’s view, and a few seconds later she was unconscious again.

The next time Meara awoke, she was in a hospital bed in a small room. The room was sparsely furnished and unnaturally bright. She checked to see if she was still restrained, but she was not. She had been dressed in a thin, knee-length gown. She placed a hand to her right temple and found no pain there, though she did find a plastic bandage. She was both very hungry and exceedingly thirsty. Her lips and tongue were parched.

Just as she was about to drift off to sleep again, there was a light tapping on the door to her room, after which Nurse Lady entered, pushing a tray through the air that bore a plate of food and a pitcher of water. Nurse Lady places the pitcher of water on a table beside Meara’s bed, fiddled with something that caused Meara’s bed to move her to a seated position, and then placed the entire tray on Meara’s lap.

“Welcome back,” Nurse Lady said in an odd accent that Meara did not recognize. “They have really been putting you through it.”

“They?” Meara squeaked through her dry mouth.

“The tests, the simulations,” Nurse Lady answered while she poured Meara a glass of water and handed it to her. “Do you remember any of it?”

Meara tried to chase down a series of memories that were becoming more and more distant with each passing moment. “Dreams…” she said. “I do not remember them.”

“That is just as well,” Nurse Lady said. “It did not sound to me like they were happy dreams.”

Meara tried to sit up a bit straighter to make it easier for her to drink the water and it felt like every muscle in her body rebelled. Her legs felt like they did after an especially long trail run, her back hurt, and her shoulder muscles were sore. Meara winced.

“Yes,” Nurse Lady said. “They have really put you through it. You will be fully recovered and healed in a couple of hours, though. We have given you the good stuff.”

There was another bit of tapping on the door to her room, after which another person entered. He looked to Meara like a doctor.

“Miss Natinde,” Doctor Man said. “Your numbers were mostly excellent. Quite impressive. I would only expect some soreness for the next few hours. I have been told that someone is coming to pick you up shortly. Do you have any questions for me?”

Meara blinked, but then established a stoic Imperial Face. She had all kinds of questions but had no idea where to start. She found herself feeling shy. and though she wanted to ask Doctor Man ‘what is going on?’”, she just shook her head and said, “no.”

“Very well,” Doctor Man said. “I wish you the best, and hope all of this turns out well for you.”

With that, Doctor Man sped out of the room, leaving Meara as confused as ever.

Nurse Lady opened a door on the wall and pulled Meara’s clothes out of a small closet. Setting them at the foot of Meara’s bed, she said, “There is no real hurry, so feel free to eat and rest for a while longer. When you feel up to it, you may get ready to leave.”

A long list of questions came into Meara’s mind.

Where was she?
What was she doing here?
Who was picking her up?
Where was she going?
Why was she so sore?
What day was it?

Instead of asking any of them, shyness gripped her again and so she simply nodded.

“Do you need anything else?” Nurse Lady said with a smile.

Meara shook her head.

Nurse Lady left, closing the door behind her.


Meara’s Return

Meara sat silent with her arms crossed in the back seat of a private transport. She looked intently out the window, doing everything she could to ignore Strange Man, who was seated beside her. When he had picked her up from wherever it was that she had been, his demeanor had been more contrite than when she had seen him last. He had made some effort to be cordial, which Meara had summarily dismissed. Their ride in the car had so far been silent.

“Could I please have your thumbprint here,” he said, offering a portable reading device to her.

She took the device, seeing that it was some kind of form. It appeared that Strange Man had scrolled it a long way to the end of the document, where a fingerprint reader awaited her electronic signature. She looked up at him warily.

“It is just procedure,” he said, with the poorest attempt at an Imperial Face that Meara had ever seen.

Meara pressed her thumb onto the display, which was acknowledged by a flash. She handed the device back over to Strange Man, who nodded gratefully.

Strange Man reached into a briefcase and produced a small wooden box. He opened the box’s lid to reveal a device that resembled the VR circlet she had used for her Seminar Sessions, only it looked like an upgrade. In addition to the circlet, there was a piece of jewelry to be worn over the ear and a card that read “Getting Started” on the top.

Strange Man handed her the earpiece. “Wear this at all times, please.” he said. “We can communicate with you through it.”

Once she had put the earpiece on, he closed the box and handed it to her. “Use this whenever a session is scheduled, please.”

She accepted the box and corrected her composure when she realized that she was pouting. She did not like Strange Man, but protocol was protocol.

“Thank you,” she said, though not as politely as she had wanted to.

Strange Man nodded as their car glided to a soft landing outside of the entrance to the Training Center. Friendly Counselor was there waiting, and she showered Meara with smiles as the two of them made their way towards the Dormitory.

“What day is it?” Meara asked. “How long have I been gone?”

Friendly Counselor turned her head to look into Meara’s eyes as if she was trying to determine if Meara was joking. “You left before dinner the day before yesterday,” she said. “It is nearly lunchtime now. Everyone is very excited.”

Meara wanted to ask more questions, but she was tired and confused and was losing faith that she would ever know what was going on. More than anything, she regretted that she had missed so much of the seminar and its sessions because they had been making a difference to her. She was afraid that she would be returning home with the growth she had hoped for somehow diminished.

As Friendly Counselor escorted her into the central square of her dormitory, she saw her cohort being seated for lunch. The eyes of the students followed her as she was escorted to her room. Something looked different about most of her cohort, particularly in the way they were looking at her. Scorn and indifference were missing. Curiosity and something more positive had taken their place. A few of the faces were even smiling at her. She smiled back and waved.

When she and Friendly Counselor entered her room, a different set of clothes were hanging in her locker. Friendly Counselor took the location tracker from the tunic Meara’s was wearing and installed it into the new one. Then she took the wooden box from Meara’s hand and used it to replace the one that contained Meara’s VR circlet.

Meara’s heart sank. To Meara, that circlet and its sessions had been a source of rescue to her. She had hoped to see where it would take her.

Friendly Counselor noticed something in Meara’s expression. She placed one hand on the wooden box in the locker and used the other to lay a hand on Meara’s cheek.

“The sessions from this device will guide you, too.” she said, smiling warmly.

She helped Meara change from her old tunic into her new one. It was similar, except that it was outlined in a fancy black trim and had an emblem sewn into the front that Meara did not recognize. It looked more expensive, too.

Friendly Counselor put a hand on each of Meara’s shoulders and said, “You look wonderful, Meara.”

The counselor’s kindness hit Meara right between the eyes. It tipped over a cup of emotions that had been brewing over the last several days. She had been stoic; she had kept up her Imperial Face; she had held herself together; but this act of kind attention broke the seal. Friendly Counselor saw it coming and opened her arms into an embrace that Meara fell into. As the counselor’s hands stroked her hair, Meara cried and cried and cried.


The First Interview

After lunch, Meara had attended an assembly with her cohort, though she had not been able to pay much attention to what was being spoken. Due to her missed sessions, the context was lost on her and she felt a bit detached from the others in attendance. Before being whisked away from the seminar by Strange Man, she had enjoyed the presence of ten thousand fellow pilgrims. Regrettably, she now felt like she was standing in the presence of ten thousand strangers.

All Meara could think about on the way back to the dormitory was the new device in the wooden box. She was intensely curious about it and held onto a small hope that the experience it would bring to her would be a suitable replacement for the seminar she had been missing. Because of this, she practically ran back to her room as soon as the cohort was dismissed.

Once inside her room, she hung up her tunic and put away her boots, then pulled the wooden box down from her locker and opened it. Other than the words “Getting Started” on a small card, there were no written instructions. There was just a picture that emphasized the proper placement of the device on one’s forehead.

Meara put it on and looked in the mirror. Combined with the earpiece that Strange Man had given her, she looked almost noble. She certainly looked older. The circlet was a dainty tiara with a single jewel in its center. Meara found herself wondering how much the thing would cost.

She laid down on her bed in a comfortable position but realized that she did not know how to turn the device on. As soon as she posed the question in her mind, she could see in her actual vision a small window that read “Help Menu”. She saw a menu option called “Commands” and as she thought about it, the option was selected. The menu changed.

Help Menu

Configuring Your Device

Viewing Your Schedule

Joining a Session

Meara selected each option by thinking about choosing it. The result was a voice in her head that explained each command. She chose “configuring your device” and set the mode to “Full VR Immersion” because it sounded more like what she had experienced with her old device than “Mixed Reality”. Then she looked at her schedule and saw that it had two events scheduled on what was mostly an open calendar.

One of the two events was flashing, and there was a button on the event that said “Join”. She thought about clicking the button, it flashed.

Meara was in a small room, or, rather, she was in the middle of a cube with shiny black sides. She could not see herself at all. Across from her, a shadowy form of a man appeared. The form of the man was made entirely of dark blue particles. The form solidified a bit, and Meara through that she recognized the likeness. Whoever this form represented, she believed that she had seen him before.

“You are Yendji Orosniwala,” Meara said. “You piloted the Providence that brought us to Amarr.”

“Close,” he replied, “but nobody calls me that anymore. Just call me ‘Yend’.”

“Of course,” she said, knowing that she would be unable to call him by something so casual. Capsuleers were important people. Meara had heard that they did not even have to fear Holders, Priests, or their families. Then Meara realized that she did not know if she was talking to a real person, an AI, or a program, so maybe calling him “Yend” would be ok.

“We have been hoping to find a candidate from the Nashar constellation for a long time,” he said. “And though you seem to have checked many of the boxes, I am not so certain that we have found a candidate in you yet.”

Meara sat still, wondering if she had missed his question. “We were told that our seminar was not a test,” she said. “We were told that the sessions were to help us find our faith.”

The form in front of her shifted its weight, as if a collection of blue particles actually weighed anything.

“The seminar’s sessions are not a part of the pre-screening process,” he said. “The DNA that was collected during the seminar flagged you as being a person with potential. Does this bother you?” Blue Man seemed amused.

Meara wanted to answer his question but did not know how. What was the purpose of this session? What was going on? Meara chose what she knew best and remained hidden behind her Imperial Face. This session had to be some kind of test or game, and just like the combat simulation game, she decided to play it.

“I suppose it does not,” she said, attempting to sound coy. “I was just enjoying the seminar.”

Blue Man’s weight shifted again. “What are your plans for education? Your family are scientists, are they not? Do you intend to seek an advanced degree?”

Meara would have blinked if she had eyes in this place. This man was either not playing the game or he was changing its rules.

“My family would not spend money on education for me,” she said.

“And if money was not the issue,” said Blue Man, “what then?”

“I think I would like to go to Hedion Academy and study Physics,” she said. “Or Mathematics. Or something else equally enjoyable.”

“Enjoyable?” Blue man said. “Fair enough. You would like to study something fun like Mathematics or Physics.”

“That is what I said, yes.” she said, wondering if her smile had conveyed through the device.

“Where have you studied so far?” he asked.

“I am about to graduate from our colony School,” she said.

“And it taught you Physics and Math?” Blue Man seemed doubtful.

“No,” she answered flatly. “I had to learn that on my own.”

“Really,” he said.

“That is what I said, yes.” There would have been no smile from her this time.

The Blue Man sighed. “Alright, then. Well, do you have any questions for me?”

Meara pondered the point of this session. None of it made sense. Was she a candidate for a scholarship, perhaps? If so, she really did not care. Right now, she wanted to find the seminar’s circlet, make up the sessions she had missed, and get back to her pilgrimage. She was tired of Strange Man and Blue Man. Though she was not sure what Blue Man was, she decided that if he was connected somehow to the real Yendji Orosniwala, he might be able to help her understand one thing that had been bothering her.

“Why did Capsuleers attack your ship when we jumped into Amarr?” she said.

“What?” Blue man was obviously surprised by the question. Meara had no idea what kind of question he expected.

“Your crew called them ‘gankers’,” she said with some spice. “Why did they try to kill us? Were they after money? Were they after you?” If she had a body in this environment, she would have crossed her arms and tapped her foot.

“No, they were not after me,” he answered, “and I was not carrying much in the way of cargo.”

“Then why did they try to ‘gank’ us?” she asked.

“Because they could,” he answered. “They tried to destroy Destiny’s Child because they could.”

“They are Capsuleers,” she said. “They are supposed to be our heroes. They are important people. We look up to them, even Holders and Priests.”

“I know,” he said. “Not all capsuleers live up to their reputation.”

“Do you?” Meara asked, which was a question that slipped through her Imperial Face. She had not intended to get so personal.

“I hope so,” he answered. After a slightly awkward pause, he said, “Any more questions?”

“No,” she said, trying to bow, but then remembering that she was not really here. “Thank you for your answer.”

Then she was back in her dormitory room.


Meara’s First Friend

Meara had spent some time with her cohort as they discussed topics learned by their seminar sessions. She tried to pay attention even though she felt very detached and distracted. She had to leave early because of the schedule of her next session, which seemed just as well. She made her way back to her room and tried to shake herself out of her discontent. This next experience, whatever it was, would be something worth doing. It was certainly better than being at home.

She hung up her tunic, took off her shoes, and put on her circlet. She made herself comfortable in her bed and used her thoughts to turn the device on. Then she joined the only session remaining in her calendar.

At first, Meara was in the same cube that had been the environment of her last session, but then she saw a prompt that said, “Accept Location Invite?” hanging in front of her. Not knowing what else to do, she acknowledged the prompt.

She was seated in a plush armchair in what appeared to be an observation deck on board a moving ship. It was like the Rec Room she had seen on Destiny’s Child, but it was smaller and more expensively decorated. Everything in the space was designed to be beautiful. The room was a work of art. As her eyes wandered throughout the space, she came to notice a man seated on another chair just a few feet away from her. Seeing him startled her, but his smile was warm. There was something emanating from him that Meara’s mind interpreted as ‘welcoming’. It was an odd sensation.

“You are feeling my emotional wrapper,” he said. “It is part of the AI that facilitates our communication.”

“So, you are real?” Meara asked.

“Yes,” he said, “but I would like you to try something. Ask me another question, but this time send an emotion with it when you do.”

“Are you joking?” Meara asked and willed herself to send an emotion close to skepticism.

The man smiled. “Excellently done.”

Meara looked down and was startled so see that she was in a form that resembled Blue Man from her earlier session. She was there but made up entirely of blue particles.

Smiling Man sent her an emotion of helpfulness, and she believed it was genuine, so she sent back gratitude. “Now will yourself into the simulation. Inform your device that you would like to send an avatar.”

Meara followed Smiling Man’s advice, and her appearance took on her actual form, though her hair was longer, the way she would have liked to wear it. She sent amusement.

“You are a quick learner.” he said and turned his head to look out of the observation window.

Meara followed his eyes and saw that they were near a string of asteroids that ran an incredible distance. They were plain, but somehow beautiful.

“It is so tranquil here,” she said.

“Not always,” Smiling Man replied. “This is a simulation of an asteroid belt in BK-4. The field is often a home to Sansha pirates. There is no safe place in New Eden.”

“BK-4,” she repeated. “What an odd name.” This time she remembered to send curiosity.

“It is in Null Security space, in a region called Providence.

Meara picked up pride from Smiling Man, but she let the subject wane. She was suddenly impatient to know what this session’s purpose was.

“So,” she asked, “What is this session to be about? Astral Geography? Sansha History? Geology?” She tried to send amusement, but she sensed some resistance to it.

“Ah,” Smiling Man said. “The AI will not let you send me an emotion that is not sincere. I have disabled that here.”

Meara took in what he had said, and it unnerved her. She suddenly felt a bit overexposed.

“I did warn you that there is no safe place in New Eden.” he said. He sent no emotion this time.

Meara found herself confused. If she was only able to send sincere emotions, had this man just disabled her Imperial Face?

Smiling Man sent gentleness. “Do not worry. I do not intend to pry, and I cannot read any thoughts you do not choose to send to me. But you cannot fake emotions here. You can choose to withhold them or send them. You just cannot attempt to deceive me with them.”

Meara took his slap gently. Though she had not intended to be deceitful, she realized now that was exactly what she had tried to do. She sent regret.

He sent forgiveness.

Meara had someone being honest with her. These emotional “wrappers” were a real connection. It was terrifying and beautiful. She sent thankfulness, though she sensed that some terrified was sent along with it.

Smiling Man laughed and sent surprised amusement.

He stood and bowed respectfully. “Now that you know how it works here, would it be alright for us to try it again? May I schedule another session?” He sent patience and hopefulness.

Meara stood, surprised by such kind attention. She returned his bow, imitating the posture he had just used. It was more respectful, somehow, than any she had been taught in her social training. She suspected this was not a game. She looked within herself to find her most honest possible answer.

“Nothing would please me more,” she said, doing her best to send the enormous wave of gratitude that she was feeling. She did this knowing that it was the single most honest thing she had ever done.

Smiling Man sent back astonishment.

“Well then,” he said. “I will see it done.”

Meara sat up in her bed and removed her circlet. She immediately put it back on and thought about her session schedule. The device responded by displaying her calendar. A new session was already there, scheduled for tonight after the evening meal. Meara had never looked so forward to anything in her life.


What is Your Name?

For the next three hours, Meara did research on the few things she knew about Smiling Man, which was admittedly very little. Her only real starting point was to research the region of Providence, a topic that had apparently been important to him.

She discovered that Providence was a region of null security space that was adjacent to Amarr high-security space, and that the region was governed by Curatores Veritatis Alliance, or CVA. This alliance was a pro-Amarr alliance who allowed non-allied corporations to live within their space. Providence was apparently a grand experiment to see if Capsuleers could live peaceably without the protections afforded by CONCORD or the major alliances. As in most things, people disagreed as to whether or not the experiment was succeeding.

Smiling Man’s avatar had worn what looked like a variation of many possible CVA uniforms. Either his projection was pure fantasy, or he was projecting an avatar that was close to his actual appearance. Meara thought it was more likely to be the latter than the former, given Smiling Man’s apparent desire for honesty in these sessions. Meara spent the final minutes of her preparation reading about the history of CVA. It was not much, but it was all she had.

When the next session started, Meara found herself on a wide carpeted staircase leading up from a city street to a set of palace gates. She could see stars in the night sky overhead, but bright lights made it look like midday. People were going up the staircase in pairs dressed for what was apparently a formal occasion. She studied the attire of the men and women buzzing around her and then willed herself into an appropriately dressed avatar. She had never worn anything like this in real life. She had never gone anywhere like this in real life. It struck her that this might be as close to such a gathering as she would ever get, and she decided to find that humorous rather than sad.

“There you are,” she heard coming from behind her. She spun around and was surprised at the swishing sound that was made by her dress.

Smiling Man bowed and sent admiration. He was dressed formally, in what Meara thought must be a CVA dress uniform. He was taller than she was by about a head and a half. She could not guess his age, though she assumed he had to be older than her.

They ascended the stairs and entered a courtyard upon which there was a large social gathering. Meara imagined this to be a sort of formal party. Smiling Man led them to a terrace upon which there was a table several yards from anyone else.

“Where are we?” Meara asked, sending curious.

“This is where I come to practice mingling with a crowd,” he replied, sending apprehensive.

“Then why is our table so far away?” she asked, pointing to the distant crowd and sending teasing.

“Because I do not like to mingle,” he replied, sending resolve.

Now they were playing a game, but it was one Meara enjoyed.

He pulled a chair out for her, playing the gentleman, and she sat, finding it humorous that digital avatars would assist each other in this way. She also appreciated his gesture, so she mingled humored and appreciative in her emotional wrapper.

“This program that sends and receives emotion is magical,” she said.

“Thank you,” he replied, wrapped in gratitude. “It uses an AI to copy and replay the emotional state of the sender into the emotional state of the receiver. I wrote the program to establish a space in which people could truly know each other. It makes conversation ‘safe’.”

“You said there was no safe place in New Eden,” she said softly, but then took the edge from her words by sending encouraging.

“You are correct,” he said. “Perhaps I should say it makes conversation ‘safer’.”

Meara wanted to ask, ‘safe from what?’, but she already knew what he meant. Meara had hidden behind her Imperial Face her entire life. In a world in which one’s words were mandated by law, honesty and sincerity became empty ideas. Manipulation and hypocrisy were their replacements. As she thought about it, though, maybe she did not understand what he had meant after all.

Once they were both settled in their chairs, Smiling Man changed the subject. “I would like to know how you have been managing the last few days. I expect your world has been turned upside down.” He sent interested.

Interested? Meara was used to being invisible. She sent honored, and though Smiling Man returned no wrapper, the look on his face said “confused”. Meara focused her mind back to his question.

“To be honest, the most difficult thing about the last few days is that I was rather enjoying the seminar.” She did not know which emotion to send, so she did not send anything.

There was a pause and no emotional sending, until he finally just said, “Really? It was that good?”

“It was,” Meara replied, sending sentimental. “It was helping me grow up, I think.”

“I see,” he said, sending respect. “I admire that you were embracing it. Would it be too forward of me to ask what specifically you were finding helpful?” He sent focused interest, and Meara wondered if he knew the impression such an emotion was leaving on her.

“It was teaching me how to be a child of Amarr rather than its slave.” she said. “It was trying to help me understand who I really am.”

“What a coincidence,” he said, wrapped in amused. “That is what I have been doing as well.”

Meara blinked. As her mind contemplated his words, she sent surprised, then entertained, then astonished.

He stood up and bowed, which Meara recognized as his cue that the session was over.

“I would like to offer to continue the topic of your seminar over several sessions. It seems the least I can do. I believe your candidacy is up for review in three days. I think that gives us plenty of time. Do you?” He sent hopeful, then admiring, and then, after a pause, pleading.

Meara felt her heart start to race, and she knew it was her heart in the real world and not this one. Here was this stranger, a man, no doubt, of some degree of importance, pleading with her to spend the next three days alone in his personal chamber of truth. It seemed scandalous, though she could not have said “no” even if a priest was commanding it of her.

There was an emotion blooming that she did not understand. It was a blend of honored, humbled, grateful, and excited. She did not want to be so forward as to send so intimate a thing, but she knew that something had to be sent. She calmed herself and raised her head, remembering Smiling Man’s wrapper of pleading.

“Until today,” she said, “such a wonderful thing would have been beyond my imagining.” Meara was astounded at her own words. They did not sound like the timid things that would usually come from her mouth. She sent confident and anticipating.

He sent impressed as he started to turn away.

Before he could end the session, Meara reached over and touched his arm. “Can I ask you one more question?” she asked, sending hopeful.

“Of course,” he replied.

“What is your name?” she said, sending a variation of the emotion he had taught her, called intensely interested.

He smiled and said, “My name is Canaith.” It was pronounced ka-NAY-ith.

“Canaith,” she said, careful to sound out the word correctly, “Will you please call me ‘Meara’?” sending hopeful.

“Of course,” he said, sending honored.

When the session ended, Meara looked at her calendar and felt disappointed that it was empty. But then, while she watched, every time slot in the next three days of her calendar was filled up with scheduled sessions.