This is my submission, and my first fanfic. It depicts the divide between baseline humans and capsuleers, and is loosely inspired by the EVE Chronicle All These Lives Are Fit to Ruin Hope you like it!
What Serpents Would Call This Paradise
The rain fell in cascades of gentle mist, droplets tumbling down the windows of the car as it glided over a narrow paved road. A squat building was coming up, the wet pale grey stone walls catching the ruddy hue of the sun’s last rays as it began to sink below the hills in the distance. Streetlights turned on and glowed as did the holographic sign above the main entrance: Bellefonte Hospice.
Pelien Gaude snuffed out his cigarette in the ashtray which then retracted into the front console. “Stop up there,” he told the car in a monotone. The car slowed and came to a stop at the main entrance, hovering still and humming softly. He opened the door and got out, flipped up the broad collar of his slick longcoat and walked inside. The hospice did not typically allow visitors at such a late hour, but made exceptions for friends and family of those residents who were near to departing.
He walked to the front desk. A computer terminal with a small camera pointed out away from the desk clicked on. The receptionist had already taken off for the day, replaced by a generic holographic facsimile of a young woman, her body a transparent blueish hue with horizontal lines flickering downwards every second or so. “May I help you, sir?” the computer’s speakers asked in a dulcet tone.
“I’m here to see Cal Monteirs,” he said. A moment passed.
“Mr. Monteirs is currently in Room 42. It’s down the hall to your left. Is there anything else I can do to help you, sir?”
“That will be all.” He turned and strode down the long hallway, brand new boots squeaking on the polished floor.
He came up to Room 42, hesitated. Fidgeted with his longcoat then stood motionless facing the closed door. This isn’t what I had in mind, he thought, the apprehension causing his heart to beat fast. This isn’t how you part ways with your past. Pelien Gaude placed his hand on the door handle, turned it as far as it would go, and waited. Why, Cal? Why did you want to do this to me? He took a deep breathe and pushed the door open with a sudden and fluid motion.
The room was spartan; only a chair by the wall, a houseplant in the corner and a viewer mounted on the wall opposite the bed playing some comedy with the sound muted were any concessions that this room was meant for someone to live in. And on the bed lay Cal Monteirs, that old man, Pelien’s mentor for the better half of his life. A passionate teacher of the worldly and the mysterious, at times bordering on the theological. Now that teacher was stricken and broken, a desiccated husk with small silken tubes running fluids into his tired veins from a whirring machine.
Pelien stepped closer to the bed, slow and deliberate. The old man stirred at the footsteps. His cadaverous skull lifted from the pillow. Blue eyes like hard marbles stared in Pelien’s direction, and he wondered if Cal could even see him. “Cal. It’s me. I got your message.” The old man licked his cracked lips, his mouth in a blank rictus. Finally, he said:
“It’s been a long time - hope I didn’t disturb you from your work up there. I’d like to thank you for allowing me this final indulgence.” He managed a wispy chuckle.
“Well, it was the least I could do,” Pelien said. His nerves failed to prevent the sweat trickling down his back. “I’m not entirely accustomed to this facet of perception anymore, but I felt I had to see you one last time.”
Cal Monteirs’ eyes twitched a degree or so over, focused on the man standing at the corner of his bed. “Perception? You mean ‘reality,’ even if you refuse to admit it to yourself.” Another chuckle.
“What I meant is what I said. You could never accept that.” He moved over to the chair and sat down gingerly. “Things are a little different now.” He spoke in measured tones. “I’m not that boy you knew anymore.”
“Of course not. You ran from all that more than you outgrew it.” With some noticeable effort, Cal raised his eyebrows. “But are you now a man? By your own…perception? Tell me, what have you accomplished up there to prove your state of being?”
Pelien nodded. “I’m speaking in more literal terms, here. The man I was was killed. The man that replaced him was killed, and so forth a dozen times more. You know my kind thinks of ourselves as more than human.”
“But never less than,” Cal responded neutrally.
“What have you been doing up there among the stars?” Cal Monteirs asked, a mix of sardonic angst and genuine curiosity. Pelien knew what kind of answer he was looking for. There were a choice few, but none would have been satisfying to the dying man. All would be truthful answers, too.
“I have been with a corporation for awhile. Security work in the outer regions of the Cluster. We defend our territory from our enemies.” Pelien rolled his shoulders, an itch on his back was nagging.
Cal nodded slowly. “Sounds like you are richer than your parents ever were.”
“By several orders of magnitude, yes,” replied Pelien, a look of satisfaction in his eyes.
“They were rich enough to hire me for my tutoring services, and rich enough to get you into that damned institution when you insisted you wanted to be a capsuleer. They were so proud when you graduated, I don’t even think they noticed that your clone was a good centimeter shorter than you originally were, after that institution killed you and transplanted your psyche into it as part of the final exam.” Cal Monteirs sat up with effort. “But I noticed. That wasn’t the only change in you apparent when you came to visit before you entered your Jovian cocoon.”
“What were the other changes?” Now it was Pelien’s turn to show curiosity.
Cal looked into Pelien’s eyes, an expression not unlike that worn when he would scold the youth. “You were…devoid of certain qualifiers that mark one’s humanity.” He began counting off on his fingers. “Firstly, you forgot how to laugh. Your cousin Rheinne always had a way of making you spray whatever you were drinking out of your nose. He was unnerved that you were confused by his antics at your homecoming party. Secondly, the entire world seemed too much for your senses. You looked as if a gust of wind would give you a rash, as you do now. Well, it’s to be expected when your clone’s skin and other organs are only a few days out of the test tube. Third and last: you knew what you were going to be, what you are now. And it didn’t seem to bother you in the slightest.” Cal rested his hands on his lap.
Pelien scratched his temple. “Oh? And what’s that?”
“A mass murderer. I’ve followed your career, tracked you; you probably didn’t know that. You and your fellows wreaked a swath of torn hulls and lost dreams for over a decade. How many crewmen died for your petty rivalries? We’ll never know, because that is one of the only things your kind doesn’t bother to keep count of. Oh, I know it’s not in your new nature to worry about such things.” He reached over to a remote control, pushed a button. A slender tube began pumping fluid into his arm, rehydrating the ancient body. “So, could you answer my question? What do you think you are?”
Pelien Gaude sighed, made a fist, relaxed his grip and spoke as if insulted by obliviousness. “I am me. I exist, and will continue to exist. You have to understand, old man, we don’t operate under the same rules you do. You don’t stomp an insect and call it killing, now do you? We fight for what’s ours, whether or not we already have it.” He ran his palm over his face to clear the sheen of perspiration. “Now I have a question for you, if you don’t mind,” he said, more plaintively. Cal nodded.
“Why are you dying? My parents owe you a debt, and have clout enough to get you a clone. Why do you torture me?”
Cal laughed loudly, coughing while doing so. “Torture? So you do have some connection left! Remember?” He coughed again. “Remember the times I taught you how the world worked, the intricacies of life, love and the grand design of the universe?” Pelien nodded ruefully. “Here’s a refresher course, and my final lecture: we are guided by instinct. It’s only natural to accumulate, to seek comfort, to relieve pain. We do so because we are animals. Our instincts binds us together, we share a common sense of being. I did everything I could to try to stop you from becoming a monstrosity.”
“I remember that day. You actually blocked my way out of the house when I was leaving to train for my new life up there. I had to push past you. I…always wondered why you were so adamant about me staying home.”
“I was adamant about you staying human!” Cal mustered as much force as he could, raking coughs now overtaking him.
“But why? I wanted to be more than human, to be the best I could be. That is what people strive for, you taught me that!” he snapped back.
Cal caught his breathe again, closed his eyes and leaned back onto the pillow. “I was teaching you to appreciate life, to admire the world around you, to feel , Pelien. You forsake all that, and for what? To be guided by instincts you no longer need. You don’t have to feel any pain in that egg you live in inside your ship, so why seek fortune to buy comfort? You simply attempt to soothe phantom pains, having no other motivation to do anything else. An animal without want, but always consuming. A monstrosity…”
Pelien stood up. “You’re a spiteful old man, Cal. Bitter that I didn’t listen to you in the end, that I chose my own path upwards. Farewell, tutor.” He said with and began walking out of the room. As he did, the collar of his longcoat slackened and drooped, revealing the topmost neural jack all capsuleers have. Cal looked on at the little silvery disc placed on the base of Pelien’s neck.
He coughed and hacked again, cleared his throat. “I torture you. I do. It’s not out of spite, youngster, it’s out of mercy. ” Pelien stopped, not turning around. Another balled fist. “Mercy! That you might yet come to your senses. That you might yet stop thinking of that jack on your neck as a medal of pride and realize it’s an umbilical cord attached to some cold mother. A mother who suckles murderous children, because that’s what your kind is. That’s why I called you here in my twilight hours, to give you a second chance of life. I’ve lived mine. Farewell, student.”
It had been three hours since Pelien left that room; he was now back in his capsule nestled deep within his vast ship, still orbiting Gallente Prime. That familiar sun Luminaire shone on, casting a reflection on the multitude of space traffic going back and forth from planet to station. He had just received a message that Cal Monteirs had died. This was significant in that it was the severance of his final connection to his old baseline planetary life, since he never contacted his parents again after that disastrous homecoming party.
The ship was currently working up to leave orbit and warp out to the Mies stargate. Even though he knew he’d never step foot on his homeworld again, Pelien heard Cal’s words ring in his ears. An animal without want, but always consuming. Memories came to the forefront of his mind unbidden. There was a time when the beauty of the cosmos stirred his soul. A great wave of emotions have ebbed and flowed, once. Looking with the eyes of the cameras that hover around his ship, he could see the multitudes of other craft over the backdrop of a glorious world, high clouds banding and scattering over glowing cities. Over and beyond, the infinite expanse of primordial void, stars glinting in the eternal night.
Those who were still human may look up to the heavens and wonder what serpents would call this paradise.