On September 7th, YC118 I received a call from Gerhardt; he was alive and I was entitled to receive my bonus. To be honest, I wasn’t really concerned about that part of our contract. Yes, one can’t have too much money, but the sum I had already received was more than generous. What I was much more interested in was to make Gerhardt keep his promise about answering my questions. Imagine, I couldn’t even boast to my pals about making the acquaintance of a capsuleer – they wouldn’t believe that after spending a week together on spaceship I hardly knew anything about him.
I invited Gerhardt to meet me on my planet Itamo IV but he declined saying he had an allergy to unfiltered air. I wasn’t that picky; to have an opportunity to talk to a capsuleer now I was ready to go even to null-sec! But it didn’t have to be that extreme this time, and we agreed to meet at Perkone Factory.
When I met Gerhardt at the station I barely recognised him – he was a completely different man from the one I knew a week ago. No, his appearance remained the same but his behaviour and attitude towards me changed radically. He greeted me like an old friend, gave me a hug and dragged me to the bar. Now was the right time for celebration, he declared.
After downing the first pint of beer Gerhardt suggested to settle the bonus payment while we were still sober. He typed a figure on his datapad and showed it to me, “Is it good enough?”
I laughed, “Mate, I think that pint hit your brain too hard. You accidentally added two more zeroes at the end.”
Gerhardt looked me in the eye and slowly pronounced the number he had shown me, “This is your bonus.”
I could see he wasn’t joking, so I touched his data pad with mine accepting the payment. The sum that appeared on my account was more than I could earn in 10 years. But I still didn’t understand.
“Gerhardt, why? This is clearly excessive for the work I’ve done.”
“No, it’s only fair if you consider the mission you helped me to accomplish and the payment I received from the customer. Jeez, I can now afford a strategic cruiser!” said Gerhardt with a faraway look in his eyes.
I couldn’t tell a strategic cruiser from a non-strategic one, but I could imagine that any cruiser would cost a fortune.
“Besides,” returned Gerhardt from his reverie, “I owe you my life.”
“First thing that you owe me,” I said firmly, “is an explanation. I thought capsuleers were immortal. How can you possibly die?”
“Look, we are not gods; our immortality relies on certain technical arrangements: each capsuleer has a medical clone, each capsule is equipped with a brain scanner. If a capsuleer is about to die, the scanner takes a snapshot of the brain and sends it to the cloning facility. There, the snapshot is loaded to the clone and the capsuleer gets ‘resurrected’. But if you shoot me here and now, my current state of mind will be lost irrevocably.”
“You mean that if one holds a grudge against a capsuleer, all one has to do is wait until he gets out of the capsule and shoot him?” I asked incredulously.
“Well,” smirked Gerhardt, “as I said, it’s more complicated than that. Corporations do not want to lose their pilots, in whom they invested a lot of money, that easy. Every brain scan is backed up, so if the worst comes to the worst a capsuleer can be resurrected with an earlier snapshot. In such case, he will lose recent memory and skills, but such amnesia is a small loss compared to a total annihilation.”
“I still don’t get it, Ger. The LCQ program I wrote for you probably prevented you from having been blown up in space, but you were already covered by the brain scanner. If someone tried to kill you outside your capsule, then there was nothing I could help you with, and you had a scan backup anyway. I can’t see how you could lose your life and how I could help you to avoid it.”
Gerhardt winced, “I was given to understand that in case of the mission failure all my clones and brain dumps would be destroyed. And the customer presented a convincing proof of that ‘condition’.”
I felt goosebumps, “What proof?”
“They actually did it just to demonstrate that they could. The customer’s representative arranged a meeting in the same station where I kept my medical clone. As soon as I signed the contract, he told me about that special condition which he didn’t put on paper. When I heard it, I laughed in his face and said he was dreaming as cloning facilities were extremely well guarded and one needed a Titan and an invasion army to hijack it. The guy smiled politely and suggested to take a walk to my cloning facility and enquire about the state of my clone. That’s when the horror began. The facility personnel told me that a few minutes ago they received an authorised request to deregister capsuleer Gerhardt Oppenheimer which triggered immediate deletion of all brain dumps and termination of comms with my brain scanner. Do you understand what they did? They didn’t have to break into the cloning facility; all they had to do was to forge authorisation on my deregistration!” Gerhardt’s voice faltered, he sipped more beer and continued.
“At that moment I felt extremely vulnerable because I realised that all I had was just one life. You probably won’t understand it, but having lived for years with a luxury of brain backup I really started believing that I could live forever. And then suddenly I was reduced to a state of a mere mortal. The customer’s agent thanked the facility staff for the information and led me away. I did not resist as I was in a state of complete torpor. He gave me time to come to senses and explained that they didn’t intend to leave me without the valuable protection of a brain backup; they simply wanted to demonstrate that their intentions were serious and they had ways to enforce the conditions of the contract, be they written or not. I was told to use my ‘accidental’ deregistration as an opportunity to enlist in another capsuleer corporation and he gave me a name of one of the government-run firms which had the office in the same station. I was asked to remember that if I didn’t fulfil the contract, next deregistration won’t be an accident and it will coincide with such a bounty on my head that there will be a queue of hunters chasing me even in hi-sec. I was given one month to prepare for the mission.”
Gerhardt downed the rest of his beer, “The first thing I did when the creepy guy left was to enlist in the specified corporation and have a brain scan done. The second thing was to post a job ad for an LCQ programmer. Now you can imagine how glad I was to find you.”
The pieces of the puzzle started to come together, but certain details were still missing. I could see how Gerhardt’s life was in danger, but wasn’t sure how big my role was in saving it.
“Ger, but what was your mission?” asked I.
“Ah, that’s a separate story,” beamed Gerhardt and ordered another round of beer.