The Words To Die For

Sinq Laison Region – Algintal Constellation
Audaerne System – Planet VI, Moon 5
Modern Finances Depository Station

5 October YC 122

Aura was giving me a silent treatment. Ever since I boarded the capsule and turned her on, she just looked at me disapprovingly without saying a word. I guess I deserved it, so I had to make the first step to break the ice.

“Hello,” I said tentatively.

Aura pursed her lips and asked testily, “Another long lunch?”

Inwardly, I sighed with relief – I was afraid she wouldn’t talk to me at all.

“You won’t believe what happened,” I said aloud.

“What, your wiki site was such a success that you spent all this time signing your photos for the fans?”

“I wish! Quite on the contrary. When I was about to open the wiki to the corporation, management suggested that I should test-drive it in a project called New Player Experience first. I joined the working group expecting that all I’d have to do was tweak the site now and then in response to the requirements. But soon after, the team lead left the project and his role was offered to me. I still don’t know why I agreed…”

Aura raised her brow and interrupted me, “Good pay, huh?”

I rolled my eyes, “Don’t ask. Anyway, ever since I said ‘yes’ it was a full-time job. Given our group consisted mostly of corp leadership and division heads who had their hands full as it is, I had to spend a lot of time chasing people.”

“So you joined a space corp and got a full-time desk job,” scoffed Aura, unsympathetically. “And what made you drop your all-important project and drown yourself in the pod goo today? Need to deliver papers for sign-off?”

“Erm… Actually, I… I was missing you,” stammered I.

Aura gave me a strange look, then averted her eyes looking uncertain. After a brief pause she turned back to me and said nonchalantly, “Well, so what are our plans then?”

“Just like the last time – explore Anoikis!” smiled I and undocked.

Region C-R00012 – Constellation C-00118
System J220438

Luckily, Audaerne had a wormhole leading straight to J-space and soon we were floating in the comforting radio silence of Anoikis. As always, I tended the cache first, and then started scanning the signatures. As it was Class 3 system, I hoped to find remains of pirate bases and indeed, one of the signatures turned out to belong to a Ruined Serpentis Temple.

Having warped to the site, I ran D-scan and… nothing happened.

“That’s what happens when you spend too much time away from the pod – your synapses get rusty,” grumbled I and tried again.

Same result.

I gave up and said, “Aura, can you please run diagnostics on the D-scan module? It seems to malfunction.”

“Just a sec,” replied she, and almost immediately her eyes grew wide and she swore quite unladylike.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“We’ve got a virus!”

I panicked, “But… but how? We have an auto-patching schedule. Or is it a zero-day attack?”

“No, it’s a known vulnerability, but the capsule was turned off and didn’t get any updates. And since it was offline for so long we did not have enough time to download all new patches before we undocked.”

“So what shall we do? Go back to the station?”

Aura shook her head, “I don’t think we can – the virus has already spread to all control systems.”

I tried to align to the wormhole through which I entered the system but the ship would not budge.

“Oh no,” moaned I. “I don’t fancy self-destructing in a fully fitted CovOps frigate.”

And I definitely didn’t fancy going through the same conversation with Aura again, as she would lose her recollection of it if I were to destroy the capsule.

“I am afraid you didn’t fully understand what I just said – all control systems.”

I felt shivers running down my interface-slot-studded spine. If I couldn’t self-destruct, I wouldn’t be able to move my consciousness to another clone!

“Do you mean that I am stuck in this pod forever?” asked I. “No, no, no. There must be some solution. What if… yes! What if we drop cloak and just wait until someone scans us down with combat probes?”

“All. Control. Systems,” repeated Aura.

I buried my face in my hands, “This can’t be true. It all feels like a nightmare.” Then I looked up angrily, “This bloody frigate can keep its cloak for years but the stock of nutrients we have on board will last only a few months. I am gonna die of hunger! How stupid!”

Just when I thought that things could not get worse, Aura eagerly corrected my ignorance, “I don’t think it will get to it. The virus’s signature implies that it has been developed by Sansha’s nation. Most likely, it has already sent a signal with your coordinates to their agents who will arrive quickly enough to ensure that their valuable prize is still breathing.”

I swallowed hard. This was the second time in my short capsuleer career when I was in danger of being turned into a True Slave, but this time the outlook was pretty bleak: I couldn’t leave the capsule, I didn’t have any weapon, I couldn’t even commit a suicide – I was perfectly preserved in the pod goo, ready for picking. There was no escape.

As I plumbed the depths of my despair and finally accepted my fate, it occurred to me that I still had some precious moments before I would become a faceless part of Sansha’s hive mind. If anything, I could use that time to settle my worldly affairs with a dignity of a free man.

I took a deep breath and started saying, “Aura, darling, while I still have free will, let me tell you that I always…”

At that moment I was interrupted by a sound of D-Scan. Astonished, I looked at the screen and saw a fading green line. Then the sound repeated and a new line ran the width of the screen, confirming that we were still alone.

“What’s going on? Is it the virus using the D-scan?” asked I, bewildered.

“The virus is gone,” said Aura smugly. “I killed it. These are, in fact, your commands which were waiting in the input queue blocked by the virus.”

“But how?”

She shrugged, “I just downloaded an antivirus.”

“How could you? I thought the comms were buggered.”

“Nah, it’s the capsule comms that were. I am not an integral part of the pod firmware and I have an independent network connection to the ship’s FTL comms system. While you were busy panicking I just used it to load the antivirus and destroy the worm.”

“If you had access to GalNet all this time, why did it take you so long?” I cried indignantly. “After all, Faster-Than-Light comms are called so for reason.”

“Well, if by ‘fast’ you mean low-latency then you are correct, but their bandwidth for massive data transfers is pretty poor. And I had to download not only the antivirus but also the whole backlog of patches to prevent re-infection.”

“Um… yes, you are right,” admitted I, and then added awkwardly, “Er… Thanks for saving my… um… should I say, agency.”

“You are welcome,” replied Aura sweetly. “By the way, what was it that you were going to tell me about ‘you always…’?”

I blushed, “Never mind. It doesn’t matter now.”

There are words that one must die for.

One day I will.

But not today.

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