A gold-plated shuttle of Amarrian design jumped into the Gallente Federation system of Egghelende, on the border of Amarrian-reclaimed Siseide. Despite the victory of Tash-Murkon champions in Amarr, the 24th Imperial Crusade seemed unfazed by the news. For the legion pilots of the Amarr Empire’s premier militia, whatever happened in Dam-Torsad was little more than a pleasant distraction from the incessant conflict against the capsuleer proxies of the Republic. Kor-Azor or Tash-Murkon, it mattered not. All that mattered to the mercenaries and privateers was if a 24th Imperial Crusade agent was ready to monetize their loyalty in exchange for Republic officers’ dog tags.
Reginald tapped an armrest with immense impatience as his request for docking was processed by the Gallente port authority. Much like the Empire, the Gallente relied heavily upon a bureaucracy for handling their sprawling Federation. But unlike the Empire, they couldn’t care less about Reginald’s Holder status. Normally, that would give Reginald a slight advantage on the docking waitlist–a few name drops and references and he could be propelled to the front of the line above wealthy commoners or merchants. But the Gallente Federation reviewed his name as just his name, one of many capsuleers that docked in Egghelende.
He sighed heavily as a screen flickered his position in line, a number that he didn’t care to repeat in his head for how low it was in priority. He picked up a neocom and reviewed his messages. At the forefront was the reply from Lady Lianne–a curt response, one devoid of the warmth he had to expect in missives from his once-executor. She had granted him permission to undergo the procedure. If it weren’t for all of the clearances and bribes that had been necessary for her to secure an earlier state of his clone–something that was really only possible within the ever-shifting legalities of the Federation, where the eyes of the Ministry of Internal Order were relatively sparse–he would have felt as if she hadn’t cared for him at all. As if he was just another toy to be thrown away.
But that was how life had been proceeding for the Holder: His wife had left him, only allowing him to see his son on incredibly rare occasions; his once-executor remained in the depths of Nullsec, too distant to be relevant; the war in the north had consumed the time of his companion, Literia; the 24th Imperial Crusade had marked him as a traitor despite his righteous smartbombing campaign against Sani Sabik infiltrators.
What other option was there than to revert to a world where the pain of the last year was no more? To be free of the memory once and for all, to never have to experience the rolling waves of solitude that encapsulated his soul in the same way that pod fluid kept his body submerged in space.
He set his neocom on a desk and gave instructions to the baseliner pilot to adopt a holding pattern across a number of tactical safes crisscrossed around the system. As the shuttle began its semi-randomized sequence of warps, he poured himself a glass of spiced wine. He thought for a moment how strange it was, traveling at speeds unthinkable for the first producers of the luxury liquid. He wondered if any of the owners of those first vineyards had ever thought that the fruits of their labor might one day make it to the stars themselves.
As he was lost in thought, his neocom entered projection mode and the ghostly image of a little girl wearing a red dress, her hair done in a mess of curls, flickered into the center of the shuttle.
He watched the projection for a few moments, then placed the glass onto a solid surface. Perhaps it was just force of habit, but he was uncomfortable drinking in front of children.
His mouth somehow managed to twitch into a smile, “Hello, Red. It’s been quite a while.”
“It has,” The ghostly girl nodded as she turned her head to and fro, looking at the interior of the shuttle.
“She’s asleep, then?” He asked quietly, finding his mind wandering towards his former executor.
Red simply nodded in response, hands clasped behind her back as she began inspecting the interior. Once the projection had hopped onto a walkway, she grinned, “That’s very like you.”
He quirked a brow, “I’m sorry?”
“Your first thought is to ask about someone else. But, we both know that your concern is only half-altruistic,” She tilted her head at him, “Because I know that you’re wondering why I’m here. You’re just too polite to say so.”
He grinned slightly, “Always reading me like an open text of Scripture.”
“Nah,” She shrugged, “I’ve already memorized the Scriptures. You’re more interesting to read.”
He took a seat, resting his head on his hand, regarding the ghostly projection with amusement. It had been months since he had last spoken to Red, the the five year-old subconscious AI of his former executor, Shalee Lianne. There had been a time he had been more curious as to her freedoms and capabilities, a time where the little girl had been one of his main allies on the Terrace–dangerous as it was, located at the confluence of Amarrian noble protocol and capsuleer hedonism. He was, in truth, happy to see her once more. She was a welcome, familiar sight, despite her startling capacity for observation–in some ways, almost approaching omniscience.
“And do I read like a classic or a penny novella?”
She shrugged again, adopting a gait as if there were stones scattered across the floor of the shuttle, lava flowing between the stones, “Like any good story, you’ve seen a lot of conflict. But, now the plot is sort of confusing. You want to be loyal to the Empire, but you fly with Pred. You want to be a good husband and for Kat to forgive you, but you cheated on her. You want companionship, but keep Literia at arm’s length. And then,” She looked at him, “You love her still, don’t you? Even after all this time?”
He was the first to break the gaze, though he shook his head, “I don’t know.”
“Uh huh,” She lifted her chin into the air, looking prim, “If you weren’t in pain, you wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t want to do something illegal, if you felt there was no other choice. And she’s helping you, because deep down, she does care, even if she can’t be here to say so.”
“Is that why you’re here, then?” He turned back to look at the ghostly, flickering image, “To be the voice at my bedside as I walk into oblivion?”
“No, I’m not fatalistic like that,” Red responded, “And neither is she. That’s why she’s trying to help you. But I can help, too. And my way is better.”
“Your way?” He quirked an eyebrow, “You can magically wave your hands and reset the last year and a half of my life, wrought with mistakes, shortcomings, and consequences that have rendered me, here? Living the life of a shell of a Holder on the fringes of the Empire?”
Red grinned, “I can’t make the bad things go away. But I can give you your future back.”
“What do you mean?” He felt his heart skip a beat at the surety in her tone.
“Close your eyes, then start counting back from one hundred. Let me show you what I mean.”