Editor’s Note: Continuing with our Eve Fiction Writing contest winners, here is our second installment. Some words edited for family friendly audience.
The Atonement of Ravanna Zahelle, Solo Pirate
A short story by Signaleer Void Raven
The frozen corpse of a woman, a baseliner, rotated slowly. The face displayed no physical trauma, in stark contrast to the obvious signs of extreme violence exhibited by the rest of her body, which was a mess of twisted and contorted limbs attached to a severely battered torso. Her face, however, did convey just how terrifying the moments immediately preceding her demise had been, when she saw her imminent death with inescapable certainty, as that terror was imprinted on it in frozen perpetuity by the near absolute zero temperature of space. A closer scrutiny of her face would have revealed that she had also experienced some form of sadness leading up to her death, for there were frozen teardrops attached to her eyelashes and stuck to her skin at the ends of tear streaks that ran down her cheeks. As she rotated, they glittered and sparkled like tiny diamonds in the light of the central star.
Pulling back from her shimmering face one would have seen that she was but one of many other corpses floating among the wreckage of a ship, destroyed earlier by a powerful explosion. These corpses had not too long ago been the ill-fated crew of that ship. Embroidered on their clothing was the name “Valhalla II”. The woman was not part of the crew; the shredded remains of her clothing was different from the others. They were baseliners, and as such they were not afforded the luxury of access to fresh clones with which to simply start a new chapter of their lives as capsuleers were. No, they were permanently dead; no more than the collateral damage of conflict wrought by capsuleers. Human detritus forever lost in the vast ocean of New Eden. Mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, children and siblings that would never come home again.
Several hours earlier
Deep in low security space, Ravanna Zahelle, a solo pirate, watched impassively as her prey floundered helplessly in the unrelenting grip of her ship. Ravanna had applied a warp scrambler and webifier to it, in addition to a neutralizer on its capacitor. Her ship’s weapons were trained on it, and a flight of her combat drones were swarming around, both groups of deadly weaponry ready for her command. The freighter was not going anywhere. It was hers to do with as she pleased. What a gloriously heady rush it was to have such absolute control over others. It was like a drug and she was addicted to it. But like all drugs it came with side effects, the most prevalent of which was that Ravanna hated herself for not being able to feel the slightest remorse for the ruin that followed in the wake of her attacks; the psychological trauma and scars and financial destitution that her victims had to cope with if they paid the ransom and were subsequently released; or the death and destruction, coldly delivered, when no ransom payment was forthcoming.
She lived by what to her was a simple rule of the universe.“The strong prey on the weak. Big galaxies eat the little ones. I take from those weaker than myself. It’s a simple rule to live by…no, the only rule to survive by, in New Eden.” she mused. By the Sisters of Eve, she despised New Eden and her place in it.
“I’m so f’ing messed up.” thought Ravanna. “Just another wretched, flawed soul adding to the abundant misery in this grim, harsh universe. How the hell did I get to this point?” she asked herself, rhetorically.
The internal conflict always kept her company, sometimes buried deeper down and easier to ignore, while at other times, like now, it was closer to the surface and more demanding of reflection and resolution. Morality…could morality exist in an ostensibly uncaring, indifferent universe? If the whole; if the sum of the parts, was uncaring could any of the constituent parts, like herself, be caring? By the Sisters, her head hurt. She was a damn pirate, not a philosopher. She would never find an answer to her inner turmoil; after years and years of trying, she was no closer to a resolution. Her addiction, the thrill from doing what she did best had, up to now at least, always won out over the self-loathing that came from seeking it.
“What would happen if one day the reverse was ever true?” she wondered absent-mindedly.
Ravanna’s thoughts returned to the task at hand. She waited for the trapped pilot’s response to her demand for ransom; somewhat patiently at first, but quickly less so. Every additional minute she delayed, increased her own personal risk in the endeavor. The victim could be requesting backup assistance. Stronger pirates could attack her. A bounty hunter could surprise her. Her main concern was not dying, since she was a capsuleer, but rather losing her ship, since every ship lost was an increase in the direct cost of her “business”. Plus, there was the cost in lost time to obtain a replacement ship. Clear, cold calculation…she liked that.
Ravanna opened the communications channel to her victim again. “Valhalla II, what is your decision? My demand is not negotiable. If you do not transfer the requested funds immediately, I will destroy your ship and take whatever remains of value.”
“Please! Please! Don’t do this!” came the response from the freighter captain. “I don’t have that amount of money; all my funds are tied up in the collateral for this courier contract. If you were to release me, once I get paid, I’ll transfer the ransom you asked for. You have my word.”
“Yup.” thought Ravanna. “That’s exactly what you’ll do. In a few hours when you reach your destination, you’ll just happily pay me. No, you’ll file a piracy report, my security standing will decrease further and I’ll be even more ‘Wanted’.”
The captain continued, “I truly cannot pay you right now. I also have a family onboard that will pay me for passage at the destination, so I will pay you more than you ask. They have a baby daughter. You don’t have to do this. It is a choice you make. Please release me so I can continue and you can get your money.”
Ravanna felt her ire increase. Always the same stupid excuse: “I don’t have the money.” Or attempts to play on her feelings of guilt: “You can choose to let me go instead of destroying me. Please won’t you make the right choice this time?” The one about the family onboard, with a baby no less; that was new. She had never heard that one used before. Of course, it was a blatant lie, just like the lack of money. Families with new-born children never travelled across lowsec in a freighter. Never.
Appeals for her to make the “right” choice were dead on arrival. Yes, it was her choice to decide what to do. But what her victims never realized, until it was too late, was that she always chose to follow through with her threat to destroy their ship and loot whatever she could if she didn’t receive the ransom. For the love of the Sisters, she was a hardened pirate and she accepted ransom or dealt destruction without prejudice. Her life was very binary in that regard. She always honored a ransom payment and released the victim; but in return for that concession to the universe, she also honored the consequence of no payment.
“No negotiations. The only thing, the only thing that will help you in your current situation is payment of the money. Oh…and don’t give me some ridiculous crap about having a family onboard. Just give me the money and you can leave, or prepare to lose your damn ship, OK?.” Ravanna replied, her voice even in tone and volume, yet nonetheless threatening. “There will be no further communication from me. You have one minute.” she warned ominously.
“No! Wait, please. I’m not ly…” The victim was cut-off mid-sentence as Ravanna closed the comms channel. A minute or so later, she viewed her account one more time to verify whether the ransom had been transferred to her. It had not.
“So. It has come down to this again.” she thought blankly.
It had been a while since she had been required to destroy a ship; it almost felt like she had been on vacation. The real world was suddenly back. She became aware of a growing headache. They always came before she dispensed her wrath. Why did some people think they could outplay her? Why did they force her hand? No matter…the time had come.
“I’ve been here before; I’ll be here again.” she thought without emotion and followed with “This is on you.” as she looked at the Valhalla II and thought of the captain, and also as justification to herself. Without a qualm, she gave her drones the command to attack and her guns opened fire.
A short time later, after the final explosion died down, all that remained was a field of wreckage. With the clinical efficiency gained from years of cold-hearted experience, Ravanna quickly recalled her combat drones, launched salvage drones and began looting operations. While sifting through the remains of the freighter, the ship’s sensors picked up an SOS signal from a small emergency crew escape pod floating away from the scene. In all her time, she had never before found an intact escape pod among the wreckage.
“Well now.” thought Ravanna. “An emergency escape pod. Let’s see who might be inside; could be it’s the captain.”
She would welcome him aboard her ship and then let him know that she was holding him ransom. Again. But this time she would be delivering the message in person; a new experience for her. Exhilaration suddenly came on strong.
She activated a tractor beam that pulled the crew escape pod into one of the loading bays on her ship. Once it was inside, and the looting operations had been completed, she set a course for a safe location in the system to have a little conversation with her victim. At the safe, Ravanna exited her capsuleer pod and made her way to the loading bay. Upon arriving there, she cautiously approached the escape pod with her handgun drawn. She needed to be cautious. She was a capsuleer, yes, but she was only “immortal” when she was in a capsuleer pod or otherwise connected to the technology that enabled clone retransplantation. While on her ship, but outside her capsuleer pod, she felt naked because she was then as vulnerable to permanent death as any common baseliner. If a person inside the escape pod was to fire a killing shot at her she would die once and for all. She often hated herself, but that didn’t necessarily translate into a deathwish. She pressed the button to open the hatch, standing well-off to one side, gun pointing steadily at the opening.
The sound of a crying baby came from inside the pod. Peering in through the opening, she saw a baby girl about six months old cradled in the arms of a dead man, whom Ravanna presumed was the father. He had succumbed to his injuries from the attack after making it into the escape pod with his daughter. The captain of the Vahalla II had told the truth.
The foundation of Ravanna’s existence swayed and rocked. There was no one else in the pod, which most likely meant the child’s mother had perished aboard the freighter. Despite her rigid callousness, Ravanna couldn’t suppress the thoughts that suddenly flooded her mind about the terrifying chaos that must have erupted around this family when her drones and weapons started firing upon it. Thoughts that generated visions that evolved in painstaking slow-motion. She imagined the husband yelling at his wife to grab their baby, while he searched for and led the way to an escape pod. She thought about the mother frantically racing through flaming sections of the ship behind her husband, clutching her baby, lungs choking and eyes burning in the acrid smoke-filled corridors and ears ringing from the weapon and drone blasts raining down onto the ship, desperately hoping against all hope to get to the escape pod before it was too late. She saw the two parents acquire injuries along the way as the unrelenting impact of the drone and weapon strikes caused pieces of the disintegrating ship to batter and tear into them, yet somehow avoiding the baby. She envisaged the mother finally collapsing somewhere, her injuries too severe for her to continue any further, screaming out to her husband to turn around and take the child. There would have been little time for “Goodbye” or “I love you” between them, if any at all. She saw the mother crying in anguish as she watched her husband and daughter continue on towards the pod as she was left behind, never to know if they made it and never to see them again. She saw the father dying in the escape pod with his little baby in his arms. She shuddered involuntarily; nausea rising from the pit of her stomach, as her last vision, that of the mother’s corpse, her tears frozen on her face and sparkling like gems in the light of the distant star, slowly rotating and drifting off into space, faded to nothingness. She had murdered the parents of this baby. Ravanna’s self-loathing spiked to a new high. Normally, the human devastation she caused was kilometers away; beyond her sight; at a dispassionate distance where she could simply and easily ignore it. But this; this was right in front of her. For the first time ever, Ravanna had come face-to-face with the direct consequences of her chosen way of life.
“Who the f— travels through lowsec in a freighter with a f’ing baby onboard?” she screamed at the dead man, still not fully capable of accepting that this was actually all her doing, and searching for a way out of the hell that she suddenly found herself in.
Her headache flared in intensity and pounded inside her head like a large kinetic round impacting thick armor plate. For a few seconds all she saw was a searing white light. The outburst frightened the baby and intensified its crying. What to do now? Her first thought was to quickly eject the pod with father and baby back into space and move on as if nothing had happened. Yes, she could do that. Ravanna started to close the pod, but, for some reason, looked more closely at the baby. Instinctively, and against her heartless nature, Ravanna smiled at the baby, which was apparently enough of an interaction to cause her to abruptly stop crying and smile back. Taken by surprise and unsure how to react to that, Ravanna took a step back, and sat down on the floor of the loading bay in front of the pod, heart racing and breathing quickly. She massaged her temples. The baby was now gurgling and babbling, soothing sounds that Ravanna yielded to and that allowed her to think deeply. Some time later, she stood back up. She had finally arrived at a resolution to her internal conflict. She knew what she was going to do now. She wasn’t going to abandon the baby in space. Ravanna approached the pod, reached in and quickly searched through the father’s clothing, finding identity cards that she pocketed and then picked up the baby.
“We’re going back to the station. Take this child and find a suitable spot to stow her safely for the trip back. Disable the SOS signal on the pod and then jettison it back into space before we leave.” she barked to her crew. Ravanna closed the pod with a swift, firm kick to the hatch, turned around and left the loading bay, heading back to her capsuleer pod. She bookmarked the location where the escape pod had been jettisoned and then set a course for the station.
The following day
Early the next morning, well before the station became busy, Ravanna took the child to the local Sisters of Eve office. She placed the baby, together with an envelope addressed to the Sisters of Eve containing the identity cards and a brief handwritten letter, on the top step in front of the main door.
She looked at the girl and, calmly and softly, said “These are the Sisters of Eve. They will know what to do. They will make sure that you will be well cared for. It’s the best I can do now. It’s all I can do now.” Ravanna cupped her right hand around the left side of the girl’s face, stroked her chest lightly with the fingers of her other hand, looked her in the eyes and mouthed “I’m so sorry.” She had never before said those words to anyone. A single teardrop splashed off the girl’s cheek.
With that Ravanna left the baby on the steps and headed back to the docking bay, but not before making a detour to the clone bay to check on her medical clone. She was there a little longer than one might have expected of someone who was just confirming that everything was functioning correctly, but soon enough she was at the docking bay. Ravanna undocked alone in her pod, and headed to the location she had bookmarked the day before. She felt at ease as she calmly activated the pod’s self-destruct sequence and then waited. Back in the station, after the pod’s destruction, her medical clone remained quite still, displaying no signs of life. It had been disconnected from the life support and consciousness transfer systems.