I originally wrote this for the GM week short story competition. It morphed from a player experience I had into something that was more fan fiction than a re-telling of an in-game event. Thanks for reading!
The True Path
“To know the true path, but yet, to never follow it. That is possibly the gravest sin”
- The Scriptures, Book of Missions 13:21*
He had always disliked delivering directives and reports to this territory. It had been many years since his last visit, hopefully he was not too late. Spaceflight in this area of the cluster was risky enough for his liking, doing it practically blind was almost out of the question. For the hundredth time during this voyage, he offers up a short prayer to the Empress and to God. The roiling detritus surges against the polyscreen of the flight deck, bringing back memories from his youth. The silvery oceans of Mekhios had always produced the most dazzling mist. As a child he would stand atop the cliffs overlooking the vast expanse of water and watch the fog roll over his family’s estate. The soft and warming light from the Sarum Prime sun producing dancing waves of colors over the gloom. This caress of reminiscence is short lived as his scanner emits another high shrill, snapping him back to the present.
Most of his sensors could not penetrate anything inside of this stellar fog, and they consistently reminded him of his present danger. Although, he would do anything for his Empress, anything for his God. If this meant flying into Raider space unarmed and alone, he would gladly lay down his life. His zealotry in furthering the goals of The Empire knew no bounds. Even if none but a select few knew the importance of his labors. “God sees, God knows, and God rewards.” This proverb ever in his mind as he had helped to carry out sabotage, assassinations, and countless deeds throughout his years of service. What he liked to think of as his “true path.”
The disorienting screen of metallic dust finally dissipates enough to glean sight of his destination. The jet-black orb emanates a sense of secrecy more dubious than the surrounding nebula, of which he is at the center. Nothing but silence greets him as he pilots his shuttle to within a few hundred meters of the massive onyx sphere. He begins to manually pulse a series of radio bursts at specific frequencies and intervals. He performs this “knock” with all possible intent and focus. One ill-timed pulse or one off-beat signal and in a matter of moments he will become nothing but dust and gas himself. At least he would die content knowing the ashes of this vessel would be added to the surrounding cloud, helping to conceal one of The Empire’s greatest secrets. He is well practiced. After 77 perfectly timed radio bursts the opening of the station’s iris signal his acceptance into the transneural research facility of the Veiled Order.
Director Magus stands near the airlock awaiting his arrival. His imperious stature belies any sense of anxiety that he should rightly feel. Not often does a retainer of The Empress make personal house calls this far from Amarr Prime. Before stepping out of his vessel our man dons his headdress. The cap is burnished copper and bears the sigil of a six-winged eye, signifying his status as a Seraphim agent of the Tash-Murkon Royal Family. Along with the apparent stature this garment brings, it serves another, much more useful purpose.
“Legate Sergius, to what do I owe the pleasure of your esteemed presence?” Magus’ low timbre voice questions.
"The Empress wishes to know of your progress and how close you are to operational readiness. I was sent to observe and evaluate the throne’s continued involvement in this endeavor”
The director furrows his brow, “We are progressing ahead of schedule, as I am sure you are well aware. We begin trials with our recent captured later this afternoon. I don’t understand, when I last spoke with Her Majesty, she was enthusiastic about our progress. We are now closer than ever to achieving our goal."
Sergius takes a moment to gather his thoughts, the unshakeable outward bearing he carries is an impenetrable wall of stone.
The director’s manner begins to crumble under the pale golden gaze of the Seraphim. Sweat beads on his forehead and the steadiness of his breath falters. He thinks to himself, “Those eyes do not belong to a man, but a lion.” A verse sprouts into his consciousness, as if delivered from God Himself, “Be on alert, for your enemy stalks about as a lion, seeking those whom he may consume.”
“Do not be troubled,” Sergius continues, “Her Majesty’s ardor for your endeavor is why she has sent me to oversee the final stages. I will be in attendance during your trials this coming afternoon. Send for me as soon as you are ready to begin. I look forward to witnessing your achievements.”
“Yes Legate, it will be my honor. Shall I prepare a room for you?” The subtle change to servility in Magus’ tone pleases Sergius.
“Unnecessary, I will retire to my shuttle while I await your call.”
With fluid and precise movements, the Seraphim agent turns back through the airlock and re-enters his transport. Once inside, he passes the time by running a series of diagnostic checks on his equipment. Both the mechanical and acutely expensive biological.
Approximately three hours later he receives a summons to the primary transneural testing laboratory within the station. A series of small electronic signs illumine his path along the labyrinth of intersecting hallways and dimly lit corridors. The guide-signs are appreciated, but superfluous. The detailed layouts of almost every classified Amarrian outpost are stored away in his mind. When he arrives at the laboratory Director Magus is already waiting outside the entrance.
“Shall we begin?” he stoops with a turning open of his left hand, a fawning gesture.
“Yes, for the glory of The Empress,” Sergius replies, again pleased with the director’s subservience.
“For the glory of The Empress.”
Over the course of some hours Sergius oversees a team of the best Amarrian neurological scientists carry out their experiment. Their subject matter that of the most illegal and taboo activities in all the galaxy. Sergius is no stranger to abetting distasteful activity when it serves his purpose, but this makes him particularly nervous. The scientists are attempting to perfect a method of clone hijacking, one which can subvert and overwrite an encrypted burst transmission of a dying capsuleer’s consciousness. If perfected, it would allow Amarrian agents to hijack the clones of enemy capsuleers, providing one of the greatest advantages in covert operations since the invention of the cloaking device. If their work was found out it would mean dire consequences for The Empress and the Amarrian Empire as a whole. The CONCORD Directive Enforcement Department would come down like a hammer. Sergius is keenly aware of the ramifications as he observes.
Three capsuleers; two Minmatar, and one Gallente, are carried in on stretchers. They are sedated and their bodies are tightly bound. Sergius has a moment of uncharacteristic anxiety at the sight. His fingers begin to twitch, seemingly involuntarily, but he steadies himself and watches on. The lengths at which Magus had to go to obtain these capsuleers was profound. Each one of them has wealth and power beyond the imagining of most individuals. They conduct themselves as gods in their dealings with the citizenry of New Eden, in both blessing and wrath.
“Do you ever contemplate the danger of what you are doing here, Magus?”
“Why should we worry? We have the full support of The Throne”
“The Empire isn’t invincible” Sergius coolly responds. Magus turns to him with a stern expression, pursed lips and glaring eyes. The apostacy in the comment bothers him, but he keeps his silence.
The kidnapped capsuleers are placed one-by-one in modified boxes designed to emulate the conditions of a capsuleer pod. The Transneural Echo Burn Scanners (TEBS) attached at the heads of each box are easy enough to identify. Exact clonal copies of the prisoners have been placed on the other side of the room. Each of these clones is meant to be the recipient of a consciousness matching that of the capsuleers. The absolute vacancy in the open-eyed stares of the empty clones is chilling. It is enough to make Sergius contemplate at the nature of one’s soul. Three Amarrian volunteers are escorted into the room, they look scared, but at the same time, resolute. The promises made to them and their families must have been lavish. They are each guided to and then bound to chairs with their own TEBS. Director Magus begins to expound on all the details of the procedure, as if Sergius was not already intensely aware. Magus first reassures him that his modified TEBS are not connected to the CONDORD relay system, thus protecting the equipment from detection. He explains the greatest difficulty in overcoming the hijack of a clone, or “clone-jack”, is the residual consciousness of the “victim”. The issue is something that has taken the team months to troubleshoot, but Magus thinks they have found a way to effectively overwrite the personages of their intended targets. Numerous tests have proven fatal, but they are never in short supply of ready volunteers. The casualness of Magus’ disregard for fellow Amarrians disgusts Sergius. Today is the first time they are attempting the test with “meaningful subjects.”
Once everything is in place, they begin by awakening the capsuleers. The outrage and indignation on their faces bursts forth before being met with the simultaneous flashes of all six burn scanners. The intense brain scan snapshots their memories and consciousness, effectively frying their brains and leaving nothing but useless pink jelly behind. The fruit of Magus’ labor shows forth when his modified burn scanners intercept and overwrite the signals sent out by the capsuleers’ burn scanners, dumping the modified signals into the empty clones. Years of work have led to this moment, and it only takes seconds to carry out. There is a moment of stillness and anticipation before the scientists begin to awaken the hijacked clones. Much of their hope is lost as two of the three clones begin to violently convulse. Through his feet Sergius can feel the vibrations caused by the jerking and snapping motions of their tied down bodies. They are quickly sedated and carted out of the room post haste. He doubts their deaths will be quick, the scientists will try and learn all they can from this “result”.
The last of the three has yet to awaken. After minutes of poking, prodding, and drug administration her eyes begin to flutter. At first these involuntary movements are interpreted as the beginnings of a seizure and the scientists scramble to stabilize her, but she suddenly quiets. She awakens with a slow and soft opening of the eyes. She dazedly looks around the room slack-jawed and in utter surprise. With a child-like eagerness the scientists begin to ask her to answer a series of questions. After the interview and multiple confirmatory scans, the procedure is declared a success. Director Magus and the scientists are overjoyed, jubilance breaks out as many cannot contain the excitement of victory over such a long-fought endeavor. Sergius looks on quietly, his stone-like face gives no hint to the thoughts locked away within. He wonders if similar celebrations were had at the success of other major weapon research breakthroughs; had anyone ever bothered to count the cost? He slowly backs away from their triumph and slips out the exit, unnoticed. As he finds his way back to the shuttle he broods, there are no bright signs to light his path this time.
The following morning all the scientists gather in the ornately decorated council room near the top of the station. The evidence of their continued night of celebration shows in the puffiness of their eyes and the smell of intoxicants in the air. The Seraphim agent slowly paces back and forth at the head of the chamber. This time he is the one that must wait. When Director Magus finally makes his way into the room Sergius begins to speak in a jocular tone,
“I wish to congratulate you all on your success! I will be leaving post-haste to personally deliver the news to The Empress.”
Cheers and applause from the scientists; a smug look of victory and content washes over Magus’ face.
“Although, before I depart, I want inform you that this technology which you have mastered will not be employed.”
“What?! Who gives you the authority?!” the director shouts as his mood rapidly declines from self-approving to that of rage. The scientists all go still, their expressions a mix of confusion and nervousness. “I know for certain The Empress wishes to use the power we have harnessed. It has been her desire since she took the throne!”
Sergius calmly replies, “Yes. It has, and I will not allow Her to reach this goal. The culpability She risks is too great, I must protect Her and The Amarrian Empire from themselves.”
Magus raises his voice yet louder, “Blasphemy! You dare question the will of Her Majesty?! You will suffer for this; your title will not protect you! Seraphim agent that you are, you will face punishment and burn!”
Sergius affixes his lion’s gaze on the director. As he begins to reply to the diatribe, he is also twitching his fingers, seemingly involuntarily. Twitching his fingers in a particular pattern with a specific timing. Left index, 0.4 seconds, right pinkie, 1.3 seconds, right index, 0.7 seconds…; he must be careful. One ill-timed twitch and all will be lost. He would be stripped of his titles, shamed, and tortured before being put to death. Worst of all, it would be an end to his service to his Empress and to his God.
“No, I will not, you will burn Director Magus, and anyone who threatens the safety of The Empire.” He finishes the finger-twitching sequence with perfection. After all, he is well practiced.
He smirks as the nuclear device he carries inside his specially modified clone begins to prime and the Transneural Echo Burn Scanner within his headdress snapshots his brain, tight-beaming it to the nearest relay. A few minutes later the radioactive dust of the research station begins to add itself to the growing nebula. Sergius awakens in his new bodily vessel, ready to continue his journey of service down The True Path.