Liberation of an Outlaw

A voice whispered into Yumi’s ear. “You’re worthless,” it said. “You’re a nobody. And you’ll never be anybody.”

She bolted up in her bed and gasped. “Lights,” she muttered and the cabin lights blared on. She squinted and rubbed her eyes in pain. The voice was gone, banished by waking, but it would not be the last she heard of it.

Every night, she heard Jotin’s voice in hear head. Telling her she was a failure.

He was right.

Once, she had been a chosen child of Hyasyoda. A genetically perfect tube child designed to become a capsuleer and fight for the State and the Corporation. She had been sculpted - like one of those trees elderly Caldari tinkered with to pass their final days in peaceful meditation - to have all the skills and attributes a capsuleer would need.

But when she faced her future as an immortal demigod crashing down with furious vengeance on the lesser humanity from her unassailable perch in the pod, she turned away.

So she was a failure. Instead of living up to the corporation’s grand plans, she had fled and stowed away on an industrial headed into deep space. When the captain found her, he threatened to jettison her out the cargo hatch. But she managed to bargain with him and eventually found a place putting all the mental prowess she’d been blessed with to good use as an engineer.

Jotin had become a pod pilot. He passed with flying colors and graduated to become a part of the Corporate Police Force, Hyasyoda’s private security. The last she heard, he’d been promoted to Lieutenant and was piloting his own Caracal in defense of the corporation’s interests.

She languished as an engineer on a forgotten industrial that barely kept its crew paid. Jotin’s voice grew louder every night. “You’re a failure.”

“Lights off,” she sighed, returning herself to darkness. She lay down in her hard bed and closed her eyes, pulling the pillow over her head in a vain effort. Eventually, she would fall asleep again, the voice still whispering but successfully ignored for another night.

The ship rocked as another volley of missiles slammed into it. “We’ve got hull breaches on decks seven through twelve!” the chief engineer yelled into the comm unit. His damage control teams were spread across the ship, trying to repair critical systems, put out fires, and seal off sections of the ship exposed to vacuum.

It was folly, of course. “The ship’s capacitor is totally drained!” Yumi reported. “We can’t run any of our defensive systems any more.”

The chief engineer, his face a mask of horror, turned to her. “What’s the captain thinking? He’s going to get us killed!”

As if on cue, a power coupling next to him exploded, sending a shower of shrapnel shredding him. Yumi was knocked off her feet onto the ground. She tried to stand back up, but something heavy was holding her down. She looked over to her shoulder and realized it was a long sliver of metal, punching through her and pinning her to the ground.

The blood was already beginning to pool. Another explosion nearby signaled the beginning of the end for the ship. She thankfully blacked out before it progressed further.

Groggy, she opened her eyes. She was light-headed. As her vision cleared, she looked around, finding herself in a dingy, poorly-lit room lined with beds, each containing someone. Most were bandaged and hooked up to IVs. She looked at her shoulder, which was bandaged, while an IV fed into her arm.

“Where am I?” she asked out loud.

A man appeared over her. “Our medical bay. We pulled you aboard when we salvaged your wreck. No reason to let good crew go to waste, after all.” He was Caldari, with all the typical chiseled features, complete with a small tattoo on his right cheek. But he had an easy smile on his face.

She tried to sit up, but couldn’t. “So you saved us?”

The man chuckled. “Well, saved you from dying, yes. You’re one of the lucky ones, your section got sealed by the automated bulkheads and wasn’t exposed to vacuum. Most of the rest of your crew didn’t live.”

“I… I don’t know what to say,” she said.

“You don’t need to say anything,” he said. “You’re probably muddled from the painkillers we gave you. Our docs had to pull out a pretty big piece of metal from your shoulder. It might be a while before it heals. We couldn’t really spare any high grade medical supplies for you, what with our own men needing it.”

She tried to feel her head, but couldn’t move her arm either. “The Guristas,” she said. “They were the ones who attacked our ship. What happened to them? Did you catch them?”

The man stared at her and then laughed. “Lady, we’re the Guristas. You’re on board our ship. You’re our captives.”

The statement hit her like a bolt, clearing her head almost instantly. She looked down at her arms and legs, which were strapped down to the bed. “What the…” She tried to struggle against them.

The man clucked his tongue and shook his head. “Typical,” he said. “Doc! We got a fighter.” Another man, this one much harsher looking than the first, rushed over. He pulled out a needle and stuck it into her IV. “You still have a bad shoulder, remember. We can’t let you open the wound again.”

“What are you…” she started to say, but the drugs were already knocking her out. She blinked and went under again.

When Yumi woke up again, she was in a cell. She yelled for several minutes before a guard came in and told her to shut up. The guard was dressed in fatigues and had several scars on his harsh face. He also carried a coil gun which he aimed directly at her when she proved reluctant to reduce her volume. That proved to be effective.

So she sat alone, her shoulder throbbing with a dull, tolerable pain beneath the bandages. After an hour, the same man who had first greeted her entered the room. He smiled his easy smile at her and sat on a stool outside the cell.

“Yumi Laine,” the man said.

“Where’s the rest of my crew?” she asked.

“Released. None of them had any value,” he answered. “Mostly disaffected poor - after all, who would want to spend their lives crewing an industrial that made deliveries to low and null sec with minimal escort but those with no other choice? So, no corporate ransoms, no one with rich families, more or less just a heap of junk. Except for you.”

She shrunk back from the look her gave, that of a hungry wolf. “What about me? I’m not any of those things.”

The man pulled out a data pad and looked down at it. “Yumi Laine, born in a Hyasyoda creche as part of the corporation’s Capsuleer Enrichment Program - a nice euphemism for breeding pod pilots.”

Yumi shrank back further. “So? I’m obviously not a pod pilot, you can see that.”

“Attended the State War Academy on the corp’s dime. Didn’t finish the program. You disappeared suddenly during the middle of a semester. The corp and SWA have you listed as a deserter. There’s a decent bounty out on your head.”

“So what?” Yumi huffed. “You’re turning me in, then? Collecting the reward on the disgraced girl who ran away from her parents?”

The man laughed. “You’re bold,” he said. He stood and opened the cell door and walked in, extending his hand. “I am Ilmari Kouzuki.” She merely stared at him, so he pulled back his hand and gave a half-bow. “I am a lot like you.”

She narrowed her eyes. “I doubt it,” she said.

He pushed a few buttons on the data pad and handed it to her. “Read it,” he said.

She looked down and saw Ilmari’s face looking back at her. “Ilmari Kouzuki. Born in a NOH creche as part of the corporation’s Capsuleer Birthing Initiative. Attended the State War Academy, but didn’t finish the program. Failed to report for duty to the NOH Military Training College. There’s a five-hundred ISK bounty on your head.”

He smiled wide. “See? Just the same.”

She tossed the pad back at him. “It’s probably all lies,” she said. “You’ve already admitted you’re a Gurista.”

“And if I was really trying to mislead you, I would have told you something different than that, wouldn’t I? But it’s not really important if we’re alike or not. Because I know enough about you already.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“Oh?” He stood and turned his back to her. “Well, I know enough. You left the SWA on your own accord. Why? Well, it wasn’t just because you failed. If you failed, you’d have been transferred to their non-capsuleer training program. They sunk so much ISK into you that they wouldn’t just let you walk away with nothing. So you risked the wrath of your corporation.

“For what? Well… No right-minded Caldari wants to risk his corporation’s displeasure. So that must mean you’re not right-minded. Something happened and you lost faith in your corp. I don’t know what it was that happened. It could be anything, really. For me, it was that they wanted me to keep training as a soldier. A soldier! Here, they had spent all this money teaching me about electronics, and physics, and spatial awareness… And they wanted me to die on the front lines like a good little cog.

“Why? Because I was a failure. An embarrassment. They’d spent trillions on that program and probably millions on me alone. But I wasn’t cut out to be a capsuleer. All their science failed them. Instead of letting me be productive and become a researcher, or a scientist, or a doctor, they just asked me to please go die in some meaningless little border skirmish or security operation so they could pretend I never happened.

“So I ran too. I ran and hid, just like you. Only instead of trying to cover myself in mediocrity, I decided that I’d teach the corporation a lesson. I’d make them pay for their mistakes. I joined the Guristas.”

Yumi crossed her arms. “And what? You’re trying to get me to join you too? Well, let me tell you why I left. I left because I couldn’t become a monster. I couldn’t become the heartless murdered that the corporation was trying to make me. So I’ll never join the Guristas. Never!”

Ilmari laughed. “It’s only murder if you kill without cause. If someone threatens your life, it’s self-defense.”

“So you’re killing them because they wanted to kill you?” she asked.

He finally turned back to face her. “No,” he said flatly. “I’m killing them because they want to kill humanity. Oh, they won’t say that, of course. They’re not like those Equilibrium of Mankind sickos, they don’t want to literally destroy all life. What they want to do is turn us into machines. They want to make us all little parts who turn and twist and are easily replaced when we break.

“I’m sure you know about the Jove, but do you really know them? I do. I’ve seen them up close. I’ve even had a few conversations with them, if you can call what they do conversing. But the whole pod thing? Came from the Jove. And you know why they gave it to the Caldari? Because the Caldari are marching right on their way to becoming the Jove.

“The Tube Child programs, the eugenics and genetic engineering, the faceless masses of people who are just there to fill in as parts… That’s how the Jove started on their path. And look what it’s brought them. A crumbling people who struggle to stay alive. Their Jovian Disease isn’t a virus. It’s a malaise that infects their entire culture. But they’ve bred out all their creativity and caring and individuality so much that no one can figure out how to fix it.”

“That doesn’t make sense!” Yumi said, shaking her head. “Why would the megacorps want to turn us into the Jove?”

Ilmari laughed again. “Oh, they don’t know they’re doing it. Not by a long shot. The CEOs want to be the immortal ones, untouchable while their joyous workers toil their short, ignorant lives away in their service. It’ll just lead to the Jove, in the long run. Their dream leads to a nightmare.”

“You sound crazy.”

“Maybe I am,” Ilmari said. “Hell, half the Guristas I work with think I’m so far gone that not even a warp drive could catch me. But you don’t think I’m crazy. You think what I’m saying sounds plausible. Maybe even true.”

Yumi blinked. “What? Why do you - ”

“Because, I had my back turned on you for a long time, but you did nothing. You could have escaped, but you didn’t. You listened. So that either makes you a giant coward or a sympathizer.” He stepped toward her, his face only a few inches away from hers. His eyes were wide and his smile eager. “So what is it? Coward or sympathizer?”

She looked into his eyes, but what she saw wasn’t insanity. It was promise. “Sympathizer,” she finally said.

He took a step back. “Excellent. I knew you’d see things my way.”

He stepped out of the cell and motioned for her to follow, but she hesitated. “I…” she began. He turned and looked at her. “I can’t kill people. I’m not a killer.”

lHe laughed. “Of course not. Neither am I. I’m a doctor, Yumi. I heal people. I help the sick. You can be whatever you want. You were an engineer and - from all evidence - a good one. You can be an engineer for us. Or follow anything else your talents and whims let you. As long as you work for the Guristas, you can do anything.”

She nodded her head, then stood. He reached out his hand again and she took it with a smile. He led her out of the cell.

That night, the voices were back. “You’re a nobody. A failure who won’t ever achieve anything.”

Finally, she had a response. “No,” she said. “You’re a nobody. Because you’ve become who you were made to be. I broke the mold. I’m the most successful person you know.”

She closed her eyes and smiled. She fell asleep with no voices in her head.

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