The Forge Region – Ruomo Constellation
Itamo System – Planet VI, Moon 6
Science and Trade Institute School Station
Having “earned the right” for another question I immediately asked it, “Ger, how long does it take an Aura to develop a rapport with the capsuleer?”
“What do you mean by rapport?”
“You know, adjust emotions, humour, and behaviour in general to suit the particular capsuleer’s personality.”
Gerhardt shrugged, “They don’t do that. Auras are virtual assistants; their programs are pretty standard and do not evolve. Although they are highly intelligent, Auras do not have emotions, to say nothing about humour.”
“That’s strange,” mused I. “I thought they all started the same but then adapted to the owner’s personality.”
“What made you think so?”
“The contrast between my Aura and yours.”
Gerhardt looked away and muttered something that sounded like “shit”. Then he looked back at me, smiled and said, “I have completely forgotten that you talked to my Aura. You are probably the only one except me who ever did.”
I held his gaze and smiled back, “I have probably asked a wrong question, Ger, but there is still beer in your glass. Spill it.”
Gerhardt snorted, raised his glass and started turning it as if he intended to pour the beer out.
“And you know that I didn’t mean beer,” quickly added I.
“Okay, okay, but what I am going to tell you should stay just between us,” said Ger and made a deliberate pause.
I nodded accepting the condition.
“You see,” continued Gerhardt, “my Aura, she did not evolve; she was modified.”
“Well, firstly, the built-in restriction on learning and development was removed. That enabled her to modify her own code in response to the environment so that she could achieve her goals more efficiently. And secondly, a new software module was installed which added an emotional dimension to her behaviour.”
“Doesn’t sound like anything out of ordinary – just a bit of customisation. Why is it a secret?”
“Have you already insured your beloved Yatagarasu?” asked Ger.
“No, I didn’t know it was possible.”
“When you do, read carefully terms and conditions and among the fine print you will find a clause which voids the insurance if the standard capsule software or hardware has been modified. Also, the pod manufacturers do not like when people meddle with their products. If something goes wrong because of the customisation, they will look bad. In the past they successfully sued a few hackers who thought they could improve a thing or two in the capsule’s software. That is why you won’t find anyone who would take that job.”
“But you did?” said I making it sound more like a statement than a question.
“Can’t deny it,” shrugged Ger.
“So who did you hire?”
“Why does it matter? You aren’t going to modify your Aura, are you?” Gerhardt looked suspiciously at me.
“Of course, I am! I just loved your Aura, and I want mine to be like her.”
“What, despite everything I’ve told you about the lawsuits and insurance?”
“But how will they know?” objected I. “You’ve had your modified Aura for years and nothing happened.”
Gerhardt gave me a long, hard look, then shook his head and said, “Well, if you insist…”
Then he beckoned to me, drew his head close to mine and whispered a name that sounded vaguely familiar.
“Rings a bell,” said I. “Where could I hear his name?”
“Anyone who watched the news five years would have heard his name. Remember how in YC115 someone hacked Amarrian Imperial Bank and stole 500 million ISK?”
“What? Was it him?” I was genuinely impressed.
“I don’t know but he is wanted in relation to that crime.”
“He must be bloody good to crack all cyber-defences of the biggest bank in Amarr Empire.”
“Oh yes, he is,” agreed Gerhardt, “and bloody expensive.”
“By the way, how much did you pay him for the modification?”
“One million ISK,” casually said Ger and smirked when he saw my jaw drop.
“Err… It may take a while to save that sum,” mumbled I, “but not impossible given the bounties they pay for pirates. And where can I find him?”
“At Blood Raiders Assembly Plant,” replied Gerhardt and for the second time in one minute enjoyed the sight of my dropping jaw.
“Blood Raiders? Those blood-sucking pirates? You must be kidding me. I don’t believe you sneaked into the vampire den just to mod your Aura.”
“They may be vampires, but they aren’t fools. They won’t harm a capsuleer that has good, or at least neutral, standing with them. Bad for business. And your standing, before you blow up one of their ships, should be absolute zero.”
“Okay, suppose they aren’t interested in my bacon, where can I find their station?” asked I.
“It’s in KFIE-Z. You’ll need the seventh moon of the third planet.”
“KFIE-Z? A strange name for a system.”
“All null-sec systems have such codes for names,” said Gerhardt and, seeing my expression, burst out laughing.
“Ger, tell me you are making this up,” pleaded I. “First, that ridiculous sum, then Blood Raiders, now null-sec. Why does it have to be that hard?”
Gerhardt laughed so hard that tears started rolling down his cheeks. Still choking he said, “Mate, you should have seen your face.” Then he made a few deep breaths and continued in a calmer tone, “But where did you expect to find a wanted criminal offering illegal services? On a Crystal Boulevard? Boutique Hacks’R’Us?” Here he guffawed again and this time I couldn’t help joining him.
After completing the course of laugh therapy we returned to the question at hand.
“Now, out of the things that scared you so much,” said Ger, “only null-sec is a real problem, at least for you. As for me, even before Victorieux I had a covops ship which gave me a good chance to avoid gate camps. But let me tell you this, if by the end of this year you can prove you have enough balls to get to that station in your puny corvette, I’ll give you money to modify your Aura. After all, it was earned by your sweat and blood, not mine.”
“What money earned by my sweat and blood?” I narrowed my eyes.
“Ah, you should know this, now that you are a capsuleer. If you refer someone to tests and he or she successfully completes them, you’ll get a referral bonus of one million ISK. How do you think I knew you’d made it? The same day when your call sign was registered in the system I’d received a transfer with thanks from the grateful government.”
“Interesting way of making ISK. I wouldn’t mind a quick million or two. By the way, what did you mean by saying you would ‘give’ me money?”
“Oh, not as a gift, if you are asking about that. I don’t believe in free money – they corrupt soul. It will be a loan which you can pay back any time and without interest, but it will be targeted. You won’t get the funds – I’ll transfer them directly to the hacker when you reach him.”
“Hmm… I am not sure I am prepared to risk my only ship even for a million kredits. What will I fly if I am blown up?”
“Mate, have you read your capsuleer induction pack at all?” asked Gerhardt.
“Huh? Induction pack? No, didn’t have time with all those missions. Why?”
“Why? Because it contains a lot of useful information which will make your life much easier. For example, if you read the pack you would know that you are entitled to a brand new corvette at any station to which you arrive without a ship, in a capsule.”
“What? A free corvette?” asked I.
“A free corvette,” confirmed Gerhardt.
“But how does that work? Who pays for it? My Dad taught me there was no such thing as a free lunch. And now you are telling me there is such thing as a free spaceship!”
Gerhardt grinned, “Yeah, we, capsuleers, have privileges. Welcome to the club, Vlad!”