Entry for YC125
Everything he had accomplished, everything he had become, he owed to her.
The pain of loss was a dull, but deep, ache, even all these years later.
Memories of life as a boy coalesced in his mind’s eye. He could still see himself scampering about the streets of Caille, causing trouble.
Caille. The image. The icon. The power. The skyline instantly recognisable almost anywhere in New Eden. A city beloved by its people. The bastion of freedom, the incarnation of cosmopolitan virtue. The embodiment of every ideal that Gallenteans cherished.
And then there was its underworld.
The existence of an underworld does not negate or invalidate the catalog of praise routinely heaped upon the city proper, but it is evidence that human vice can thrive anywhere.
He never knew his father or mother. An orphanage was his abode, as early as he can remember.
Like most street kids, he knew how to make a little ISK. Whether fleecing the tourists, trafficking contraband, or delivering secret messages for paranoid lovers, covert ingenuity made money.
Most importantly, it was how he met her.
A vision of brazen femininity, trotting leggily down the street in scandalous attire and stripper heels, wild brown hair reaching her waist, big brown eyes and a perennial smile, chatting away to someone all the while.
Captivated, he discovered himself following after her, beguiled by the voice and the hypnotic sway of those hips. A couple of streets later, she entered into a building which he knew belonged to one of Caille’s many fashion houses, this one known as “La Mode.”
It was an open secret that high fashion in Caille had a dirty underbelly. Trafficking, drugs, prostitution and all kinds of morally questionable activity were alleged, and rarely did anyone deign to deny.
He knew that to associate with her would be likely to invite trouble. He knew that he would be better off to forget her and move on. But the puppy love damage was done. He felt a yearning that he had never experienced before. He knew only that he had to know more.
The next day he returned, the same time, the same place, feeling a nervousness that to him, was inexplicable. He was never nervous. And just as he was about to walk away, cursing himself for a fool, there she was again, every bit as enchanting.
His eyes ate her up as she strode by, a sudden mix of emotions surging in his chest. And then just as she levelled with him, she turned, saw him, and smiled. Oh! For a moment, he forgot to breathe. And then, before he could recover, she was gone. He did not dare follow lest he make even more of a fool of himself. But by now he was a lost cause. What could be done about it? He was just a boy, she would never take him seriously. For the rest of the day he mulled over his predicament to such a degree that even the normally oblivious adults he interacted with were inclined to comment.
That evening, not long before he was to be back at the orphanage for dinner, he was sent to deliver a package. The destination this time was the “unofficially-official” HQ of one of the larger Caillean cartels active in the city, masquerading as a club.
The muscle at the door were familiar with all the errand boys and waved him straight in. The interior was dark, chic, flush with expensive decor. There was a group of about a dozen people at a booth near the back, two of which, a man and a woman, were having an argument. As he approached he suddenly stopped and froze in place. It was her! Just as he recognised her, the man arguing with her turned and stormed out of the building, almost knocking him over.
Etiquette required that he wait where he was until the man he was to deliver the package to acknowleged he was there. This was just as well because he still hadn’t recovered his composure, instead he stood there and gawked.
She was clearly still upset by the argument, and the other women in the group were apparently consoling her. After a minute or so she too began to leave.
He gazed at her as she came toward him on her way out the door, but she was entirely preoccupied and did not even appear to notice him. A cloud of perfume overtook him as she went by, lingering even after she had gone out the door.
A few minutes later, the man he was here to deliver the package to finally summoned him, and such was his preoccupation he almost didn’t notice.
He handed over the package and walked back out the door. Once outside he saw her again, engaged in conversation with one of the muscle men. Instead of immediately heading back to the orphanage, he decided to hang around, as unobtrusively as he could.
From where he stood, he couldn’t quite hear the conversation, but he could see she was still upset and that the bouncer was trying to placate her.
Even unhappy as she was he still found her mesmerizing. He felt a sudden urge to approach her and try and comfort her, and then immediately became annoyed with himself at the absurdity of the idea.
Just has he was berating himself for this foolishness, he spotted a man striding purposefully down the street toward the club, holding something in his hands.
Suddenly he realised that it was the same man who had been arguing with her earlier, and right away he sensed there was something very wrong. Neither she nor the muscle had seen the man, so he started walking, then running, toward them.
The look on the man’s face as he approached her was an expression of singular rage, and as he drew close, he threw something at her.
The boy got there just in time to shove her out of the way, and the acid the man had thrown at her face, instead struck his face.
He screamed in agony. The pain was beyond anything he had ever felt, and he fell to the ground pawing at his burning face in futility.
The muscle, meanwhile, had tackled the man to the ground and were giving him the beating of his life.
And she, her… Appalled at what she had just witnessed, she tried to help him, but there wasn’t much she could do. She held onto him and tried to soothe him until a medical team arrived and took over his care. State of the art medical technology ensured that he was quickly stablized, and then he was transferred to the local hospital for ongoing care, where, with the pain finally medicated, he fell asleep.
He awoke, and the first thing he saw was her face. Partially saw, that is, discovering that he could see nothing out of his left eye. He blinked several times, but nothing changed. He looked at her again. She was busy with a device, but then looked up, saw he was awake and smiled.
“Hey.” She said.
He tried to smile back, but the muscles in his face did not cooperate, the result being a kind of half-grimace, and the look on her face when she saw this destroyed him utterly.
To see such pity in the face of ones obsession was anguish of the most unbearable kind.
He strove with all his heart and soul not to cry, but even so tears ran silently down his cheek.
She could not bear this either and climbed into the hospital bed with him, wrapping him up in her arms until, exhausted by injury and emotion, he once again fell asleep.
Her name was Calliope.
She was of Minmatar stock and had been smuggled into the federation via people traffickers while she was still a child, and then was effectively sold to La Mode, who would take over her upbringing and groom her for future life as a model.
In spite of the glamour of the profession, life as a model in training was difficult, incorporating hard exercise, strict diet, toxic co-workers, physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
But Calliope was a survivor. She fought for a better life, and she was smart. Leveraging her social connections as a model for La Mode, she made friends with some powerful people, most notably forming a relationship with the son of one of the most notorious crime bosses of the Caillean underworld. Her relationship with the son did not last long, but during that period she made a lasting impression on the boss himself, who from then on treated her like a daughter. Socially speaking, she had put herself in a strong position.
And so it was that she used her influence to look after him. The boss himself approved the purchase and implantation of a state-of-the-art bionic eye. But nothing in the underworld is ever for free. With this transaction, he became a vassal of the organisation, a member of the bosses extended family, and like everyone else, he was expected to earn his place.
Calliope herself made sure he understood this, and oversaw his clandestine education. She taught him everything.
Loyalty was paramount. You stuck with your people, no matter what. Sacrifice was sometimes necessary, in order to serve the greater good, that is, the good of the family.
Resilience and perseverance, were essential qualities. Sometimes, life meant suffering, but with the right approach, suffering made you stronger. This was something she made sure he understood. Self-pity was anathema, it was not to be tolerated.
Observance, alertness, attention to detail at all times. If one was to be useful, one had to be smart.
And finally, humility. Excess pride inevitably lead to ruin. Stay humble.
She never had need to repeat herself, because from the moment he met her, he internalised everything she said.
The family put him to work on the streets where he was many things, but chiefly a spy.
His bionic eye doubled as a surveillance instrument where cameras would be detected, and few people were ever suspicious of a boy who lived on the streets, especially one so obviously downtrodden and indigent.
In addition to this, the scars the acid had left on his face inspired pity and indulgence in people who would otherwise have shooed him away, and so it was he could sometimes get into places impregnable to others.
All this while, he nurtured his crush for Calliope. Although he wasn’t aware of the fact, everyone knew about it. It was obvious to anyone who saw him look at her. Everybody knew about it, except, somehow her. Perhaps she was too close to see it, or maybe she refused to acknowledge it because she felt he was like the little brother she never had. He yearned for her and she was oblivious. In the meanwhile, she had had a string of lovers, never committing to any of them, and all of whom, with great irony, were jealous of the attention she lavished on him.
Then, one day, she met the Ambassador. As the title implies, he was the head of a controversial, but highly esteemed Amarrian delegation to Caille, and as such, was targetted by the intelligence services who occasionally employed the family for such purposes, and the boss chose Calliope for this particular operation.
The Ambassador, as is regrettably common with powerful people in strongly authoritarian regimes, was a brute. Accustomed to being able to oppress those around him, he exploited his diplomatic immunity to do things no Gallente politician would be permitted to get away with. And so it was with Calliope.
She charmed him, effortlessly as it always was for her, and he quickly acquired a taste for her company, something he did not care to share with anyone else. She tried to accomodate him at first, but his demands became increasingly unreasonable, and when they were not met, he exploded into violence.
The first time she came back with a bloodied face, the boss wanted to pull her out immediately, but the intelligence services were adamant she continue. There was a fierce argument, but in the end the boss reluctantly agreed to keep her in play for the time being.
Calliope herself, was heroic. She did not refuse, she did not complain. But those closest to her, above all the boy, could tell that she was suffering.
And then it happened. After an especially prolonged outburst of abuse, Calliope snapped, and fought back. For a moment the Ambassador was astonished. Nobody ever fought back. And then his pride got hold of him. How dare she! And he flew into an apoplectic rage. He beat her, savagely, mercilessly, without respite or remorse, and then had his people throw her out the door.
Outside the door, the boy was waiting. They were supposed to go home after this, they were going to eat junk food and watch holovids and chill out.
But when she was thrown out the door, he barely even recognised her. In shock, he tried to rouse her, but without success. He called for help, and then cradled her in his arms until the paramedics came.
As the ambulance flew to the hospital, she appeared to regain consciousness briefly, looked up at him, squeezed his hand, and tried to smile, then lapsed back into unconsciousness again. She would never wake back up, and died in hospital a day later.
In a daze, the boy wandered about listlessly.
All about him, the scandal exploded into the public domain. In spite of the seriousness of the crime, the Amarrians refused to waive the Ambassadors diplomatic immunity. Everyone on the Gallente side was enraged, pointing fingers at each other, trying to find someone to hold accountable, someone to blame. The Amarrian delegation was eviscerated by the media and the Ambassador himself, wisely hid himself away.
While Gallente officials argued with each other about what should be done, the family, meanwhile, had plans of their own. The Boss outwardly showed very little emotion, but those who knew him best could tell he was dangerously incensed, angrier, perhaps, than they had ever known him to be.
It was of little surprise, then, to those who knew the family, when the Ambassador was abducted by pirates while trying to shuttle from one hideaway to another. Publicly, nothing is known of what became of him, but privately, amongst those who have knowledge of such things, it was said that his punishment was more than commensurate with his crimes.
With the loss of Calliope, something was lost to the Boss, that even revenge could not replace. The zest, the hunger for life, went out of him. He became solitary, almost reclusive, and his relationship with his family soured. The only person he made any effort to acknowledge was the boy and even then he only saw him on occasion.
When it became clear that the Boss was dying, the conniving, the plotting and scheming amongst the rest of the family became serious. Alliances were made, friendships were broken. Everyone who it was thought had any chance to inherit the mantle of the family put themselves forward.
And so it was, when the day came that the Boss quietly departed in his sleep, no one could quite believe that he had left everything in his estate, to the boy. And nobody was more amazed than the boy himself.
Never before had he been under such intense scrutiny. In the two years or so since Calliope’s death, he had gone through a growth spurt, and now resembled a young man, rather than a boy, but on the inside he did not yet feel like an adult.
Incredulous, the other members of the family muttered amongst themselves wondering what to do, because if anything were clear, it was that this boy in absolutely no way had the capacity to lead the family.
Never at any point in his young life had he felt more in need of Calliope’s friendship and guidance. He did not want this. He did not ask for this. He was tempted to just give everything to another member of the family and forget about it.
But the Boss had left his legacy with him for a reason. And Calliope was that reason. For that fact alone, he felt he should make use of the situation, rather than just give it up. Right now, he needed some good advice.
After some careful consideration, he reached out to one of the grand daughters of the late Boss. She, like he, was not used to being under such scrutiny, so she could sympathize with his situation. She was also extremely smart, and young enough to think independently and not just fall into line with the other heavy-weights of the family.
He, despite being a loyal servant to the family, was still seen as an outsider. For this reason, among others, she convinced him that he was under threat by other more traditionalist, patriotic members of the family, those who might try to take everything from him by force. At the same time, with Calliope and the Boss gone, he no longer felt much of a connection with the family. He wanted to get out.
Between them, they came up with a plan. He would nominate her as the new leader, and between them they would split the estate fifty-fifty. He would then sell her his half of the assets, and then use the isk to move off world, and start over.
Several weeks later he left the planet of Gallente Prime for the first and the last time, and took up residence in an orbital station. Here he began a new phase of life. He had put much thought into the question of what he should do with everything he had been given. It all came back to Calliope. What would she want for him? She would want him to be his best self. To reach for the stars. And so it was decided: He would become a capsuleer. Or at least, he would try. He had the financial resources, but did he have the mettle?
He did, as it turned out, but it would take several long years of intense effort and almost unbearable suffering. There were many occasions when he thought he couldn’t do it, that either he would give up, or flunk out. But her memory kept him going. He couldn’t let her down. Not now, not ever.
Finally, he made it through. By capsuleer standards it wasn’t the most impressive performance, he was far from the best, but he had made it, and that was enough.
But he did not ever want to forget his roots. For this reason he kept his scarred face as it was, and all his future clones were to be marked the same way.
With all these stars of fate aligned, with the profound privileges of being a capsuleer, immortality and the infinite were beckoning.
New life, now, was only just beginning…