What's the line between a human and a God? Even the most basic of baseliners cover a huge range of power, ability, intelligence and viewpoints. An infant is human, and so is the mightiest warrior or shrewdest politician, and they're nigh incomparable. Add capsuleers to the mix and the power differences keep mounting, but it's still just a matter of scale. Between them, they are equally different in political, economical, physical and mental prowess. The range from a baseliner infant to the mightiest capsuleer is so staggeringly vast that at some point one becomes like a God unto the other. Yet, are we Gods? We may like to style ourselves as such, but no. There is one thing that a God must be able to do.
Destroy all that which God has created.
The Fourth Circle, a NE10K entry, Chapter One.
The bitter cold was held at bay by sturdy wooden walls and the fire burning along the fireplace in the longhouse, along with mead, boisterous laughter and the warmth of companionship as most of the small village's population gathered there in the dark evening of the only land they'd even known. Primitive people, by most standards. No electronics, no real technology of any kind. Happy and content though, as they worked hard and didn't bother concerning themselves with anything beyond the horizon. I considered that to be good enough, for a few more generations at least. Still, such a small close-knit community with this technology level should probably have taken some sort of notice when opposite me - sitting on a bench with a tankard of untouched mead on the table in front of me, wearing pretty much the same as they were - the air started shimmering green and bit by bit a human body started assembling itself out of thin air.
No one even turned their heads to look as what appeared to be a naked and tanned woman now replaced the shimmering green with a golden glow emanating from herself, then filled the air with a slight embarrassed squeak as she looked down upon herself. I suppressed a grin as she muttered something about not having had to bother with clothes for too long as some silken robes materialized in the same way, draping themselves over her modestly before she sat down looking supremely annoyed.
"Why?" she exclaimed, irritated. "Why this stupid insistence on this place, this body and communication? I can barely fit a fraction of my capacity in this and we could have finished this talk in the time it took me to form the first word if you weren't so backwards." she said, as she sat down slowly with a grimace at the wooden bench, still glowing softly golden. No one had noticed her yet, even if one of the servers had to step around her. It wasn't a particularly difficult trick, but I was glad to see she maintained it nonetheless.
"Perspective, mostly. It's good for us to have to look at things the way they do, move the way they do and more importantly think the way they do." I said, glancing around at the people around us. "If we lose our connection to them, we can't uphold our promises. How many do you need now?"
She didn't answer to start with, distrust evident on her face. "Too many. It took a lot of effort to concentrate enough for this. I don't know how you do it so effortlessly." I could have sworn she looked slightly petulant, but I think that was acting more than anything else. "I thought you were a proponent of not thinking like they do?"
"I am, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't understand it. They can't be allowed to become alien to us, or us to them. Did you bring the memories of the beginning?" The question seemed to take her aback a little. It was not a subject that came up often, but she nodded grimly. Not surprising, given what we all experienced back then. The sides we'd taken and the things we'd done in the name of our respective causes. She simply nodded with a frown.
"That too is important." I said. "We need to remember it, not just as we are now but in the way we used to be back then. Without ten thousand years of distance or across our vast new perspectives. There are lessons learned in remembering those decades. We can't repeat those mistakes. The Sansha. The Drifters. The breakdown of the civil wars. The second cataclysm of the gate and the thrice damned plague. We overcame these things, but the price was too high."
She didn't respond. She just stared at me with that expression I'd come to recognize from when we have to trawl through the staggering memories we could fit into our chosen forms. Having spoken of these things aloud, I probably wore the same expression as memories were found and unfolded.
The first big four had faced so many trials, but the worst one was the peace. The State and Federation had come to an agreement and no longer had the unifying force of an external enemy and so their internal strife bloomed into full-scale civil wars as the Megacorporations of the State and the wildly divergent cultures of the Federation clashed hard. The Tribes and the Empire both bereaved of allies in their fight against each other couldn't afford to keep up hostilities and the same happened there. A liberal modernizing Emperor preaching abolition of slavery clashing heavily against a Khanid backed faction that would rather see a commercialization of it led to the greatest schism in their entire history, while the Tribes discovered what the Elders had planned on and revolted against the only remaining symbol of theirs, Shakor.
So clearly the logical thing was to fight everyone else at the same time. I couldn't tell you how it happened but all four fought each other and themselves at the same time. If the Eve Gate hadn't suddenly stabilized and spawned the first enemy to unify the entire cluster, humanity would surely have ended in those years. I drifted off into memories I hadn't accessed in so very long.
"Submit! Obey! We have come for what is ours!" The transmission was the same every time. Nothing else was ever transmitted by the alien yet familiar ships that poured through the now stable Eve Gate. Their technology was incredible, tearing apart the baseliner navies with ease. Without us capsuleers joining together to force the... what, seven now? The seven different nations of New Eden to fight together against this threat, we wouldn't have been able to bottleneck them in Access. One more system lost and they'd have enough paths to move that our forces couldn't possibly keep them at bay.
The screams on comms from baseliner vessels being torn apart were automatically muted, but easily imagined as incredible bolts of plasma and energy beams tore through a dozen of them for every alien ship they destroyed. I say alien, but scans of the fields hastily performed before falling back once more indicated something truly horrifying. These were humans. Alien humans. We didn't have any details because we had never managed to hold the field long enough to retrieve wreckage and biomass, but what data we had along with the constant transmissions were fairly conclusive. The myths of us having come from another place were true. Somewhere past the armadas pouring through the gate lay our ancestral home.
How's that for unification? Learning beyond a doubt that we're all the same people from the same planet, not just as a highly likely thing but for a fact? Then learning that they are trying to conquer and take us all, no matter our current identities as Matari, Ni-Kunni, Civire, whatever. Our differences were fairly quickly laid aside, to a degree. As the most massive capsuleer force I'd ever led sat still in a deadspace pocket, I still had to continuously threaten, cajole and comfort fleet members that eyed the other fleets around us with suspicion and anger. We couldn't afford fucking this up.
The baseliner fleets were massed at the gate, destroying all the Old Eden forces that came through, at a terrible price and it'd all be for nothing if this didn't go according to plan.
"Sacrifice stands ready." I grimaced in the pod at the name. It was probably the most fitting name we could have, but it didn't sit any better with me anyway. "Roger. Fleets Imperialis and Tovil-Toba ready?" my voice went through the aether, shaped entirely by my thoughts. Acknowledgements came in. "Good. Fleet Invictus stands ready. Sacrifice... spirits be with you."
No more had to be said. No more orders given.
The mix of volunteers from all bloodlines of all nations, flying every kind of subcap ship New Eden had made over the years aligned and hit warp to the battleground. Hundreds of them, capsuleers all, but full of baseliner crew. Every last one volunteering for this job, because it was almost certain none would return.
"Sacrifice landing. The Old Eden forces are as scans confirmed, approximately eight hundred vessels fighting... two thousand three hundred baseliner vessels who are quickly diminishing." The horror in his voice was a rare thing for our kind, but the sheer firepower on display here was staggering so I couldn't fault him for it. "Primary is broadcasted, I want all neuts on TOE targets designated as carriers, EWAR elements know what to do . Logistics, try to provoke the enemies a bit, but be ready to switch to capsuleer vessels. We'll be the deciding factor here, baseliner vessels are... expendable."
I'm glad these transmissions never got into baseliner hands. It was cruel, but it was necessary. Sacrifice struck hard and without mercy, quickly showing that TOE forces weren't invincible and that New Eden's capsuleer technology wasn't inferior enough to TOE tech that we'd go down easily. Hopefully we'd done the calculations right. Big enough to cause them enough trouble to...
"Gate activation. No local spike as usual but... My God. Fleet Command, this is Sacrifice. It worked. It worked! The probed forces on the other side jum... all reps on Sa
..." was the last we ever heard from them. Normally this would be a moment of disgust, horror or chill as countless men and women died as sacrifices for the greater good but I can't pretend I wasn't elated. It had worked! Previous probes every time we lost another system or gate showed that they'd never even engaged us with everything they had. Super capital class ships and huge support fleets had waited on the other side, probably just in case we'd ever managed to form a proper resistance. Too much resistance and they'd simply stay and hold their side, too little and their vanguard would simply fight alone. We'd hit them with just enough.
"Fleet Invictus, Fleet Imperialis and Tovil-Toba, this is fleet command. You know what to do." the voice was calm as it entered my head, translated from binary data over ftl networks directly into my brain, bypassing my senses entirely. I relayed the orders to fleet Invictus and the three fleets hit warp in unison. Still more chatter on the comms as our combat hardened fleet of veterans landed and immediately went to work with calm professional detachment, belied slightly by the trembling in their voices as they faced the strongest enemies we've ever faced.
Can't say I was any less nervous as the signal came through. "Cyno is up! Jump in everything!
I hate this part. My innards roil as the jumpdrives spin up and without the stabilizing from system gates a jump is truly horrific. Your entire metal body tearing itself apart as it's thrown across lightyears of space, violating damn near every law of physics we understand in the process, before the jump tunnel resolves itself and you have to shake off the pain and disorientation. A quick sensor scan showed me all I needed to know. We'd landed several hundred supercapitals on field and their forces were now outnumbered. They'd annihilated the entire Sacrifice fleet, but now we were more numerous than them, baiting them in. Not enough to make this an easy fight, but we could win this!
My voice came through clearly, cold enough that it should have frozen the Old Eden forces in place.
"Sound the Gjallarhorn. Ragnarok has come." The Bloody Fist