It is always easy to get where one needed to go, by remaining intent on one’s purpose, never wavering. Mr/ Lien has been single minded in his devotion for a long while now, and he goes wherever he pleases.
Tonight, he moves dream-like through the deep storage hangar at the Kaalakiota Corporation Factory. It is easy to keep to the shadows in the thick ranks of retired InterBus haulers. The dream through which he moves is dreamt by those around him, who pay him little heed. Any suspecting glance cast his way withers beneath the fire that burns within him, plainly visible — to the dreamers, at least — through his eyes.
Mr/ Lien knows his destination precisely. Years ago, he had helped to arrange for the removal from active service of the Nereus hauler, Mobira. Since then, he had worked unseen to ensure it remained dormant, a sleeper to be awakened only when the time was right. His many visits to berth AA-23-2158 had gone unreported. This, his final one, would be no different.
His pace is not rushed. This evening’s work would be another but another passing of the Shuttle, nothing more. It has been proceeded by countless others and will be followed by countless more. But what a pass! Still, time and purpose have drained away every worry and nearly every care, and so — no rush.
Rather, men like Mr/ Lien move in a sort of grand shuffle, crushed by awesome purpose yet buoyed up by noble intent. Many imagine they do the right things for the right reasons. Some are correct in this assessment. The vast majority of even these are captivated by mundane commitments. (And rightly so! Of such persons is the Tapestry woven!) A handful see a grander sweep of events and are corrupted by its enormity, coerced into a cheap and easy villainy in order to make even a small crease in the seemingly imperturbable drape of History. Only the rare few see rightly, do rightly, and act rightly. And, of these, a mere fraction have the means to effect change, to make a difference.
These are not the thoughts that go through Mr/ Lien’s mind on this auspicious occasion. Men like Mr/ Lien are not like other men, and it is difficult to know exactly what it is that they see, think, or feel. However, it would not be too incorrect to say that something akin to this was on his mind as he approached AA-23-2158. And whatever approximation of his actual thoughts these might be, they undoubtedly put the smallest of bounces in his step as he lifts the plastic dust shroud away from the hull and boards the vessel.
Tonight’s modifications would be a joy to put in place. After so much patient, watchful waiting, the seeding of technology throughout the cluster had finally yielded a positive result at CreoDron. It had, of course, been only a matter of time. And yet that first moment when a new thing emerges from the soil of careful preparation, albeit inevitable, is still a simple — and thus a great — pleasure. Knowing which seed had borne fruit, the culminating pieces were carefully nurtured and drawn into position, lined up next to one another on the Loom. All that remained were the final adjustments and the end was almost certainly guaranteed.
To be sure, there isn’t any actual weaving taking place. This is all just metaphor, a picture of something like what might be in Mr/ Lien’s mind. A more realistic depiction of events actually transpiring would make for a poor picture. It would most definitely diminish the grandeur of what the events mean.
The faintest shiver runs from his spine, down his arms, and into his hands as he makes the final connections. There is no possibility that he will make any mistakes. That is not even a remote concern. It is joyous anticipation that courses through his nervous system, or whatever analog of it he might label as such.
And it is sadness. The dream he dreamt so long ago is becoming real, moving — figuratively and literally — out from his mind and into solidity. The life he has harbored is casting off, and his mind will no longer be its womb. He will remain a father and will always have been a midwife, but he will be mother no more.
It is done. The finest thread he had to offer has been spun off and out, unspooled from within, added to the Tapestry. He is significantly diminished and inestimably enhanced. Such is the way of it.
Mr/ Lien emerges from the craft, ducking stiffly under the dust shroud, and shuffles noiselessly away, leaving life entombed in the dead weight of the decommissioned hull. As he makes his exit into comfortable obscurity, unseen, the signal begins to transmit.
It must be the most boring day on record. The feed to the good Gallente stuff had been stopped somewhere upstream, and, despite working on it all morning, Screed couldn’t figure out where or how. Which was infuriating for a sysop. He was supposed to have the keys to everything! But, maybe if he stepped away from it for a bit, his mind would noodle away on an answer for him in a subprocess.
He sighed, pushed back from his console, and palmed the red further into his eyes. Not good to sit like that for so long, but this was a real mystery. Nothing else seemed to have been affected, just the one feed — his own private side channel that no one else knew anything about. He’d been very careful to keep it well hidden. He was sure of that! Anyway, no one else around here had the faintest idea about systems. They weren’t even in his league. His caution was wasted on them, but it paid to be careful. He stood up and shuffled around, working some blood flow back into his legs.
“Screed” wasn’t his actual given name, just a handle. A “nom de fluid router.” And one that no one here at Quafe had any clue about. Only a very few could afford his services and he wasn’t well- known outside of his regular client base. His customers and he liked it better that way.
All of which made it exceedingly weird for an alert to come in just then from one of his private shell messaging accounts. That traffic was only permitted in via the link that had been down all morning. The message was brief:
“> We control the network.”
He sat back down, shocked at just how much cold sweat his body could produce so quickly. “No no no…” Knowing it was too late, his hands flew across input devices in a last-ditch effort to dump and burn everything.
“> We mean you no harm. We request your help.”
Screed didn’t recognize the sender’s credentials. The only way an unauthorized user could be on this channel was if his feed had been breached somehow. There weren’t many with the tech to find his subnetwork, let alone invade it. He sent the commands to wipe every node all down the chain, then broke the connection.
As he was starting the wipe of his local system, another ping came in from the same private messaging account. Impossible! He had just severed the connection to that feed. He scanned the message and realized it was coming in on a completely new feed, identical to the one he had just imploded, but with a different upstream origin — and better encryption.
Like way better encryption. Like encryption he didn’t totally understand at a glance. New tech he didn’t know about. Just who was he dealing with here?
“> We request your help. We are willing to pay.”
Whoever it was, they had him dead to rights. If they could casually infiltrate his sanctum while he was there trying to prevent them from doing so, they could have easily done so at any time in the past. They probably knew everything. Best to at least appear interested. He took a sip of Quafe to settle his nerves.
“< I’m listening.”
“> We request your help in predetermining the results of the upcoming Quafe Quarter-Trillion Sweepstakes.”
Screed about choked in disbelief. Someone this technologically sophisticated wanted him to fix a contest? If the request had come in any other way, he would have written it off as a joke. And a bad one, at that.
“< I’m not sure I follow.”
“> We would like you to ensure the winner of the upcoming Quafe Quarter-Trillion Sweepstakes.”
“< Yeah, I got that bit. What does someone with your resources need me for? Fixing this kind of contest is trivial…” The realization of what they wanted was not so much a dawning in his mind as it was a thunderclap. He just about choked again.
“> You are a trusted Quafe employee with considerable access to internal systems. We want you to get caught.”
Of course that’s what they wanted.
“> You will find our payment has already been transferred to your account. The details of the desired sweepstakes results will follow.”
Screed heard the “ka-ching” ping from his banking service. He saw the numbers roll across the screen, and this time he did choke in earnest. By the time he recovered from his coughing fit, he had already mapped out his next move after leaving Quafe. The kind of ISK he was now in possession of changed just about everything.
And what the heck. He’d even do the job for his mysterious benefactor. Just to make sure he stayed on their good side. It might even be kind of fun. Boring afternoon averted!
Chinengozi Mupedzahasha put bruises all over her body, his blows lightning strikes after the thunder of his shouting. It had been a bad day.
He’d been called into work early to ferry some richie-rich cuta from here to there and it had to happen RIGHT NOW. “Rich” meant he had to fly the old shuttle because it had the nicest interior — and the worst guts you could imagine. He wasn’t exactly afraid of flying it, but he gave his Auntie Jamyl statue an extra kiss whenever he did.
“Rich” also meant no tip. She barely even looked up to acknowledge him when she boarded and she couldn’t be bothered to so much as say “thank you,” even after he carried her bags all the way into the main concourse when they arrived.
And “RIGHT NOW” meant it was a one-way trip with no scheduled return, so he was stuck at the ugly end of nowhere with nothing to do but wait for a fare back or pay the return trip fuel and fees himself.
And then to top it all off, Traffic Control said he had to move the shuttle because it was taking up a prime docking bay (‘cause that’s what Ms. Rich insisted on) and the one they forced him to move to was at an out-of-service concourse where he had even less chance of finding a fare. AND he had dinged the shuttle up pretty bad while docking because it was so old it didn’t mate well with the equally out-of-date docking collars in use at this god-forsaken station.
And so he found a bar, called a service, and took it out on someone. ‘Cause Misery loves company.
Later, over a can of Quafe, Chin wondered if he might have killed her. His thoughts on the subject were detached, dispassionate. He was just curious. Fear tickled a corner of his mind as he thought of being caged again. He called for another Quafe and scanned the bar.
He turned down the music in his implants. The music helped him think, helped him forget, helped him all the times in all kinds of ways. But right now he needed to listen. Stay alert.
His fingernails scraped around the edges of the sweepstakes scratch-off’s bioreactive film. He was fidgeting. He hated his habit to pick and pull at this and that when he was idle. “Only women fidget,” his dad said, and so he did it more just to aggravate him. Sometimes he could get on his dad’s nerves enough to turn it into some gud fites. And now it was a habit he couldn’t shake, and he hated it. Well, nothing he couldn’t fix with another drink or two. And then he’d have to start looking for a fare…
As he turned to summon the bartender back over, he saw the CONCORD star out of the corner of his eye. Too late! How had they snuck up on him?
“Mr. Mupedzahasha?” The voice cracked as it rose to form the question. The CONCORD guy couldn’t have been more than a few months out of the academy, and he didn’t seem to be oozing with confidence. Maybe he had a chance if he just played it cool.
“Who’s asking?” Chin leveled his gaze at the uniform, ready to pounce — or run.
“Sir, it is my duty to inform you that you are wanted–” Chin sized up his options. He didn’t want the cage again, but he didn’t want another decade of running, either. “–at the station office of Quafe to discuss your recent prize winnings.”
Chin glanced down at the scratch-off under his thumb. YOU’RE A WINNER! “Yeah, OK, thanks.” Chin turned away, hoping the guy would leave him alone.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I must insist you come with me right away.” Chin turned toward the kid again, gave him his best glower. The kid stood his ground, but he did swallow a lump in his throat before speaking again. “They’re quite serious about dispensing this prize, sir.”
“Yeah, well, not interested in some free Quafe or whatever. Give it to the next guy or somethin’.”
The kid wouldn’t quit. “My directive from Quafe is to bring you to their offices right away. I can call some of my CONCORD friends over to help me out, if I have to, or maybe we can just call Ms. — what was it? — ah, yes, Ms. Aldori from last night and see if she has anything to add to our conversation.”
Chin spluttered. Where did they dig this kid up? “All right, fine. No need to make any threats. If it’s such a big deal to our friends at Quafe, I’ll go.” Shake someone’s hand, maybe have a picture made for the bartender to hang in the corner, go home with some free Quafe. Guess it could be worse.
“Well, then, right this way, Mr. Mupedzahasha.” The kid beamed. Officer Hey. Have to remember this guy, Chin thought.
“OK, run that by me again.” Chin couldn’t believe his ears.
“I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Mu-ped-za-ha-sha. The whole thing stinks, and I’m sorry you’ve gotten mixed up in it. While we’re legally bound to honor the particulars of the sweepstakes rules, we understand that this–”
Chin interrupted. “I’m not saying I’m against it. I just need to hear it again.”
“Of course. By scratching the can you entered into a legal contract with Quafe Company and its subsidiaries to receive the reward allotted to you randomly. However, we know that your award was dispensed purposefully, not randomly, by one of our own employees–”
“Right. I got all that. The contest was rigged. Someone is setting me up or somethin’.” “Precisely, Mr. Mu- ah, sir. As such, you are under no obligation to accept. We did want to ask some more questions, though–”
Chin had been studying his hands. Now he stared up in wonder. “But what if I want to accept? Can I do that?”
“Oh! I see! Well, of course, we’ll want to understand why our employee selected you, what connection there is between you, what he might stand to gain from awarding you such a prize, etc.” He sounded it out, “et cet-er-a”.
“Sure. But is there any chance I can accept?”
“We have an awful lot of questions, sir, but we’ll see what we can work out.”
It was too good to be true. It was weird and messy and seemed like it might fly away out of reach at any moment, but it was a dream worth hanging around for. Somehow, his name had come up and now he had a chance at becoming an egger and getting his own ship.
The guy they say did it, that put his name in the hat (and it was the only name in there, apparently), he’d never heard of him. It sounded like the Quafe guys were thinking the whole thing was some sort of prank their guy, “Screech” or somethin’, was using to distract them while he made his escape. Seems like maybe he had been up to some bad stuff on the side.
And it sounded like his name was just as good as any other, and since there really wasn’t any connection between the two of them (“no indication of collusion” was what the last Quafe lawyer had said), that he might as well receive the prize.
There was still some paperwork left to settle, but it sounded like he had a real shot. An actual chance at something. It was far enough along they were even letting him poke around in the deep storage hangar where his new ship was being stored. Not that it was new — it was an old InterBus hauler, Mobira. But, if…and it was a big “but” and a big “if”…the ship would be his!
The deep storage hangar was empty. Sounds echoed forever in its deep recesses. Chin fidgeted with the heavy plastic sheeting that draped around the entrance near the cockpit. As he stepped inside, he could’ve sworn he heard faint music. Walkway lights illumined his way automatically, and then the on-board flight computer spooled up.
“Standby. Authorizing. Captain, I am ready to go.”
‘Captain.’ Yes, he very much liked the sound of that.