Editor’s Note: Continuing with our Eve Fiction Writing contest winners, here is our fourth installment.
A short story by Signaleer Tolgaard Asanari
I feel I must apologize for the flawed structure of the following story. Although it wasn’t written by me, I am aware the breaks and skips of the story make it seem much more an outline than a true telling. The Achuran who gave me this story, being something of an artist and political activist, insisted that the following statement be published in conjunction with the story. I am not sure I have the requisite sensibility to appreciate this statement, having perhaps to much common sense and a low tolerance of nonsense, but here it is:
“I wrote this story considering the rigid stratification of overall Caldari culture. As this story appears an outline, with parts missing between sections reducing the readability and overall impact of an engaging and meaningful story, so too does the inflexibility of Caldari society interfere with the continued growth and expansion of what should be a truly exceptional and influential culture extending and advancing the human condition.”
I know. I don’t really understand it either.
The following is a true story… Names and other personally identifying information have been obfuscated or removed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
The child tosses and turns, caught in the bonds of an unnatural sleep, fair hair plastered against a sweat-streaked brow. From time to time, Nurse gently bathes the child’s face with a cool, damp cloth, occasionally adjusting blankets and pillows in a forlorn attempt to ease the child’s discomfort. Nurse is a firm believer in a higher power, an over-arching deity who controls everything while cradling the fate of humanity in ever-loving hands. At times like these, however, that faith is sorely tested, for how could a loving God allow something like this to happen to a child? Especially this child? Tears glistening on wrinkled cheeks, Nurse renews the attempt to comfort the child’s condition, praying as always that the child will one day awaken, and that the sound of laughing and giggling and playing will echo through the mansion once more.
Achura, known by some as Saisio III. A planet with a gravity slightly higher than the planet of human origin, covered in rich farmland, spectacular mountain ranges and possessing some of the best vacation and hunting resorts in Caldari space, Achura is the ancestral home of the Achuran race and a relatively recent addition to the Caldari State. Achura is notorious for attempting to go its own way in cultural affairs, but remains staunchly Caldari in governmental and business proceedings.
Sukuuvestaa corporation, one of the largest and most powerful business entities in Caldari space, maintains a large presence on Achura. Long known for their focus on agriculture, mining and real estate investment, Sukuuvestaa corporation has for some time been a favorite of the Achura, with a large percentage of the corporate upper echelon keeping offices and estates here.
One such estate is located just east of the large, sprawling SuVee headquarters complex, in an area graced by cool seasons, warm sunshine, gentle breezes and a fast 15 minute flight time to company offices.
Late in YC107, Caldari medical services began to notice what appeared to be a new syndrome appearing in children of Achuran descent. Although rare, affecting just 1 in 10 million children, the condition was somewhat concerning. Symptoms included fever, extreme lethargy and an inability to concentrate, followed quickly by collapse into a semi-catatonic state. Patients affected by this condition usually remained in a semi-catatonic to comatose state, despite all treatment attempts. A noticeable deterioration of bodily function usually resulted in death within 2 years. The condition became known as Seylin-Formins Disorder, named after the facility in which it was first identified.
In YC112, researchers at the Achuran Institute of Medical Research and Development discovered a possible link between Jovian disease and Seylin-Formins Disorder through a cooperative endeavor with the Institute of Jovian Studies and, unofficially, with the Society of Conscious Thought. Recent advances in technology, primarily capsuleer-interface technologies, allowed the fairly rapid development of a possible remedy. Surgical installation of a sophisticated and invasive neural implant system, controlled remotely by an advanced AI, seemed to offer the best chance of repairing, or perhaps offsetting, the neurological damage caused by Seylin-Formins. Deployed in YC114, initial results were startlingly effective. 98.9% of cases were effectively treated leading to regression of symptoms, and while there was a relapse rate in the single digits, the remedy was hailed by everyone involved as a monumental success.
That is, unless your child happened to be among those in the single digits.
Lost in a fever dream. Swirling, sparkling, spiraling lights; explosions without end. Sense of vicarious movement, faster than light, stars blurring into solid streaks, rushing to possible doom/destruction/death (but not final, no; never final.) Overwhelming sense of OTHER, intuitive understanding of concepts far beyond a six year old. A sense of sight, enhanced beyond biological limit, colors and shapes, forms of ships, gates, stations, planets. And hearing, oh the sounds… the rush of missiles, sounds of beams discharging, buzzing sound of projectile systems engaging, low shield/armor/hull klaxons… (Dim perceptions of Nurse, and cool rags, and outside noises, but OHH so far away, and not really REAL.) Awesome victories, devastating defeats, riches beyond imaginings, losses beyond belief…
And the child continues to lie motionless, face composed. A discerning observer might distinguish the flush of fever spreading across tiny cheeks… or, perhaps, the flush of inescapable excitement.
Tall, dark haired, handsome in a rugged sort of way, wearing an expensively tailored E-suit, the Executive strides into the building. Heading toward the Executives personal elevator (no security here; any unauthorized person wouldn’t have made it into the building), the Executive communes with an inbuilt personal AI, reviewing and amending the schedule for the day. Riding the elevator to the 140th floor is something of a meditative exercise; some Executives drop in to the helipad on top of the building, but this Executive appreciates the few seconds of quiet and isolation the elevator affords… and besides, having ones own private elevator is one of the established perks of the job, and should therefore be enjoyed to the fullest.
Exiting the elevator and emerging into the outer office, a few things register. All secretaries are in place, working their private communication suites and handling the more mundane affairs of office. None look up at the sound of elevator doors opening, as expected. The last secretary to look up and make eye contact with the boss was terminated immediately. They are here to do the work of the Corporation and, by extension, the Directorate, not engage in satisfying personal curiosity on Company time.
The office is large, furnished in a quiet, unpretentious but extremely expensive style that screams power and wealth, in an understated way, of course. An observer might be surprised to see no desk anywhere in the suite. Artificial creations of intimidation, power and place setting are not required by the occupant of this office; anyone who gets this far is beyond those necessities. The Executive sits in a personally tailored leather and titanium chair and picks up a folder full of various appropriation proposals. Although these could be reviewed electronically in an installed personal augmented virtual reality environment, sometimes having the physical papers to review can lend a certain je ne sais quoi to the experience. Besides, having the time to process information physically is another established perk of the job.
As the day progresses into the afternoon, a grimace crosses the Executives face, something the secretaries would all swear was impossible. The Executive is famous for a granite, unyielding expression. An internal alarm has reminded of an appointment outside the office, and it is time to leave. The Executive heads out the door, scanning the assembled personnel to verify all is as it should be, heads down and working, and crosses to the elevator, exercising the Executive privilege to come and go at will. This time, going up. The ‘Copter is required. Hopefully the appointment can be accomplished within a short time; there are still many things to be done here before the day is over.
“As you can see, following this chart, the present configuration of the Seylin-Formins implant is effectively suppressing the erratic processing of information taking place in the limbic system. Misfiring of neocortical neurons are being handled correctly by implant sub-processing. Paralimbic cortical regions have been …”
“Doctor, I’m not a medical man. I don’t actually care about limbic processing or the structure of the amygdala. What I do care about is what procedures will be necessary to restore proper functioning to the mind and body of my heir.”
“Director, we have been working virtually nonstop on the project ever since the relapse occurred. We have our best minds working on it. It is a difficult case, but we have hope that a res…”
“Doctor, I took time out of my busy schedule, which included deciding on the allocation of funding and grants to various institutions across Suukuvestaa’s areas of interest, to come here today. Please don’t tell me I wasted my time coming to your institution to hear another of your excuses. I came here solely because I was told there is a procedure that may repair the issue. Was I misinformed?”
“No, there is a… procedure. It is very tentative. A theory has been proposed that a slight ‘leak’ in the subspace processing linkage between the implant structure and the controlling AI is allowing outside information to be injected into the stream, causing destructive interference with the implant structure associated with processing within the Cerebrum. The process by which this may be occurring is not clear. A further…”
“Doctor, I must return to work. Will this process heal my heir, or do I need to fund another clinic to research the issue?
“Director, it is the considered opinion of this institute that, at the present time, this procedure offers the best chance of a recovery. Whether complete recovery or not, I can not say, as it is experimental in nature.”
“Very well, proceed, and notify me when you have something concrete to offer.”
“Director, one more thing… this procedure… well, it is experimental. There is a chance that reprogramming the substrate and realigning the various implantation nodes could render the subject into a permanent persistent vegetative state, with little to no hope of recovery.”
“Do it, and notify me when the procedure is complete.”
The young child, fair headed and light eyed, runs across the carefully manicured lawn, laughing and shouting. Catching sight of Nurse, the child alters course, gaining speed and catapulting into the waiting arms of Nurse, knocking both to the ground. Laughter and giggling continue as Nurse exacts revenge for being spilled onto the ground by the ruthless application of tickles. The child breaks free and speeds off, attention distracted once more, this time by a butterfly, enjoying a child’s golden afternoon in the sun…
With a start, Nurse awakens, sitting in a chair in an opulent waiting room. Gut wrenching, heart aching sensation as the memory of the dream passes across the tapestry of reality. Nurse remembers the child’s birth, the awe and delight as the realization of fair hair and light eyes registered with the doctors and nurses attending. A combination of fair hair and light eyes amongst the Achura is a rare thing, and supposedly signifies great luck, health and wealth for the possessor of such sublime features. Nurse fully believes this child will rise to greatness, all things considered. As the child grows, the superstition appears to have a factual basis. The child is healthy and intelligent, with an engaging personality, all flashing smiles and happy laughter.
Then, the downfall. Increasing lethargy, lack of smiles, lack of laughter, almost no energy followed by a total collapse. Nurse prays to an all compassionate God for intervention, and it seems to be a success. A grueling operation, a few days of recovery, and suddenly the child is back again, providing light and life to an otherwise dark and sterile existence. The child’s relapse almost destroys Nurse; only the fact that there isn’t anyone who, in Nurse’s opinion, can adequately care for the child enables Nurse to go on at all.
And now, this. A second operation, this one as experimental as the first, and potentially even more perilous. Nurse still can’t understand how the Director, even though stern and coldly inhuman in mannerism, can work while this operation is in progress. It is all Nurse can do to sit and remain quiet, as the urge to run down the hall to the operating room, beat on the door and demand an update is almost overwhelming.
One hour down. The doctors have said this operation could last upwards of eight hours. Nurse stares at the unmoving hands of an antique clock in the waiting room. Internal time checks reveal it is in working order, but time is at a standstill. All Nurse can do is wait.
A sterile operating theater, with doctors and nurses surrounding a small figure lying on a padded and cushioned table. Arms and legs strapped to avoid unnecessary movement, the child is covered with a synthetic coverlet, engineered to monitor the body’s vital signs and provide recommendations to attending physicians in the event of abnormality, as well as capable of extruding a nano-technology driven interface to take sudden corrective action if required.
To an observer unfamiliar with the proceedings, the equipment in the room would seem strange. A small half-bowl with a crystalline appearance is situated over the child’s head, although apparently making no direct contact with the child. A medium-sized white box is located on a smaller table, adjacent to the child. A thin cord extends from the box, passing through the crystalline bowl and appearing to plug directly into the Occipital region of the child’s cranium. A crash cart is parked against the far wall; no one thinks it will be of much use in this situation, but regulations are regulations. That is all; despite the complexity and ground-breaking nature of this endeavor, not much else is actually required. The doctors and nurses standing around are also somewhat superfluous; most of the operation is managed, regulated and performed by an advanced AI. However, it is technically an operation, and besides, it cannot hurt to have a few doctors and nurses on hand. In theory, there won’t be much of a person to save residing in that young cranium if the operation turns out badly, but theory is theory, and this is reality. If the child can be saved, these people are prepared to move heaven and earth to make it happen.
A mental signal is sent, a command is acknowledged, and the AI begins the procedure.
Increasing coherence of thought, alterations of mind increasing reception of aberrant signals, deepening understanding of concepts once foreign, and what once were flashes of external stimuli flowing inward have become cohesive, episodic incidents of vicarious experience…
Floating through space, and all’s quiet in the area. Bouncing from planet to planet, the child hits the target location on the third try. Coasting to a stop, the child examines the cache, finds the contents satisfactory, and heads off into the void, reminding Allison to update the markers. A wormhole appears ahead, an anomaly the child has already located and marked, and preparations are made to make transit. Maintaining caches might not always be the most exciting endeavor, but it can be among the most satisfying. The child enters the wormhole, and…
Cloaked in space, bombs and torpedoes ready to go. Tension rising as the child approaches the target. The cruiser is apparently oblivious to the child’s existence, and proceeds about its current activities. Closer, closer, ON TARGET! The cloak drops, the bombs and torpedoes fly, and a massive wave of exaltation passes through the child as his target explodes in a cartwheeling, pinwheeling blaze of light and fire, pieces of matter blazing outward from the center, temporarily lighting the darkness. The child turns and heads for the nearest high-sec wormhole, mission accomplished…
Brief sense of darkness, flickering sense of reality…
Cargo hold half full, continually orbiting a large, ore packed asteroid, maintaining a watchful eye on sensors as the child’s mining equipment cuts into the massive rock below. The child returns attention to the TRI-D entertainment module interface accessible from the pod, and continues watching The Adventures of a Space Age Por…
Wavering, space begins to flicker in and out… sounds become distorted, vision elongated, feelings compressed. The child is happy/angry and sad/exuberant. Something is wrong, but the child’s will is strong, and very quickly…
Shields gone, armor gone, hull at barely 5 percent, the child makes preparations to warp off in the pod. Initiating the align instruction, the child begins spamming the warp instruction. A sudden explosion, fire and light surrounding the child, a sense of motion, and… the pod speeds outward! Heading away from the explosion, heading toward safety and a station with implants intact. You can’t win them all, but you can surely try!…
Blackness engulfs the child, oppressive quiet, numb feelings. The child floats in an endless abyss. A light appears in the distance, slowly growing in size. A voice sounds in the silence, not actually heard but experienced…
“Child, you are lost… come this way.”
Sudden irrational fear breaks through into the child’s consciousness. No… No… NO! With a supreme effort of will, the child breaks free, and…
Recovering from the gate jump, the child groans aloud. Gatecamp! Bubbles covering the immediate vicinity, ships in the immediate area trying to decloak, lock and destroy! But the child is clever. Fitted with a covert cloak, the child selects a random direction and begins to move. Internal tension flares as a ship passes oh so close, but still too far away to strip the cloak protection from the vessel. Slowly, the vessel creeps forward, closer and closer to the bubbles edge, and then… FREE! Cloak still engaged, the child warps off to the predetermined safe, whooping with joy and excitement…
Again, blackness. Again, quiet and numbness. This time, however, there is no voice, no sound… simply 3-D holovid crystals, spinning resolutely through space, passing before the child. Small children, running and playing on green, green grass, chasing one another as the child looks on, smiling… (feeling of numbness lessening, quiet somehow less oppressive) Nurse, clapping and singing with a small child… Nurse, bestowing the tickle punishment for a supposed minor infraction…
Numbness is all gone now, replaced by a quiet warmth… sounds of laughter and singing are slowly replacing the quiet as a sensation blossoms in the child… a long forgotten sense of love and life and feeling. The child wants to… do whatever is necessary, but some last darkness remains, blocking the way.
Blackness fades to light, and all around the child a room appears. Tall figure in a suit, standing, looking down on a small child. The figure reaches down and grabs the child, hugging the child tightly. Pulling away, the child is startled to see the look on the tall figures face… however briefly, a smile has appeared.
Last explosion of light and sound, unnatural darkness fading away forever, the child finally fades into a precious, peaceful abyss.
Afternoon approaches. The Executive tries to focus on routing orders, appropriation allotments and other important issues, but it is growing harder to maintain concentration. For once, these subjects appear less than trivial. The Executive is not known for nervous mannerisms or pacing, and yet…
Abruptly, dropping paperwork onto a convenient table, the Executive leaves the suite and quickly walks toward the elevator, failing for once to look around the office. (Probably for the best, as the secretaries are so startled by the sudden, unprecedented appearance of the boss that a few actually look up. The boss has never left this early before without a scheduled appointment.)
Arriving at the institute, the Executive quickly walks toward the private suite reserved for the operation and recovery. Calling ahead would, perhaps, alleviate the anxiety suddenly making itself felt, but surely if a problem had occurred…
Up ahead, a cluster of people are arranged outside the main room of the suite. Doctors, Nurses, Technicians… all standing around the entrance to the room, looking inward… what has happened? For the first time in a decade, the Executive breaks into a run, heading for the door. Personnel fade out of the way, making room for the Executive to enter. It is only at this moment that the smiles on the faces of the people surrounding the door become evident, but the Executive is focused solely on the room ahead.
Nurse, standing by a bed, head down, tears sliding slowly onto old, cracked cheeks. Looking up, smiling, and stepping aside, revealing a small figure sitting on the bed. The child sees the Executive enter the room, and, fueled by the power of childhood, and love, and life, despite muscles atrophied by years of lying in bed, fairly catapults into the Executives arms. For the first time in a long time, the granite cracks, and a smile appears, banishing for all time the apathetic impassivity that was fed by rage, and loneliness, and fear.
In YC117, researchers at the Achuran Institute of Medical Research and Development, in cooperation with scientists from the Institute of Jovian Studies, in a partnership with technical elements from the Society of Conscious Thought, finally derived a highly successful, multi-pronged approach to the treatment of Seylin-Formins disease. At the time of this writing, all known cases have been completely cured, and sudden onset cases are usually treated successfully within 48 hours. Rumors of a complementary derived treatment for some cases of Jovian disease have been reported, but no proof has been presented. The Society of Conscious Thought, when approached by this author, declined comment.