Fiction: Untitled, by Charles Aucie

He waited in line to collect what little the insurance agency would offer for the wreckage of his ship. Wincing, he massaged the back of his neck, which just hours ago was severed by titanium cladding from his destroyed capsule. “Phantom pain”, they call it. The brain never evolved to handle the stresses that a capsuleer forces it to endure daily. There’s nothing natural about beaming your consciousness across uncountable light years.

His new body was perfect, the fourth commissioned clone. Identical in every way. Despite every nerve and every cell matching the original, there was still an alien feel about it. He shuddered as these thoughts ran through his mind. He continued to massage the back of his neck, the pain creeping upwards towards the base of his skull.

Flashes of his final moments, his ship breaking apart, the ore spilling from the holds, lingered in his mind. New Eden–a galaxy where anything was possible. You could be anyone. Here he stood, a miner by trade. Destined to orbit countless rocks, to endure pirates and malevolent capsuleers, to make just enough to scrape together another rusty mining barge. Barely making ends meet. Where was the hope that New Eden promised? He wasn’t sure anymore if the pain in his neck was from the titanium cladding, or whether it was his continued realization that something wasn’t quite right.

He looked around at the other people in line. The pilots, the fighters, the tradesmen, the families, the business people. Bustling about the station by the millions. Their faces seemed to indicate that he wasn’t alone in his thoughts. Huge metal structures, bright sterile lights, enormous holo-displays and tacky neon all combined to create a dystopian atmosphere. As the insurance clerk handed over a paltry fraction of his losses, the pain in his neck migrated and settled firmly into his pounding head.

He walked to the space port, mentally preparing himself for the necessary bartering to acquire any sort of useable mining rig. Mining lasers would be the order du jour, strip mining would have to wait for a future pay day. His thoughts fell back to his disappointment with his career. It seemed like there was no escape from the tedium and doldrum. Taking a break, his mind foggy, he leaned against a gantry and stared out across the cavernous space above the hangar. Ships landed, took off, and spun about in a chaotic and silent ballet. He watched as the holo-display above him faded to black. His hands fell, his headache and neck pain forgotten, as bright white words appeared against a stark black background.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

The words resonated within him as panoramas and vistas of beautiful starscapes filled his vision. Exquisite ships he had never laid eyes upon breezed across the display. Words of adventure, wanderlust, fortune and exploration scrolled by, accompanied by groups of explorers working together towards common goals. The presentation ended with “Signal Cartel” emblazoned in bold, blue letters on the display. He noticed he had been holding his breath for the entire advertisement, his headache gone.

The memories of this man seem like they come from another life. That man, Charles Aucie, no longer idles in belts and scurries away from pirates. Charles smiles, deftly undocking his Astero from station. ALLISON, the ship AI, greets him: “Let’s go exploring!”. His mind is clear, the aches and pains of his previous life are gone. What are the furthest reaches of space? Where will the next worm hole lead? What discoveries await? Why is Quafe so delicious? Charles doesn’t know the answers to these questions, but he can’t wait to find out … as a Signaleer!

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