The night before an Alliance Tournament begins is nerve-wrecking, not only for the pilots fighting, but for the organizers, the billions of fans who have placed wagers on the matches, the spectators rooting one way or the other, and the crews that pilot the ships.
Axel Adell spends his night watching a movie. "Sunday's Mannar," he says as he watches the movie, a drama about a Mannar miner struggling with the death of his family following the destruction of Nouvelle Rouvenor during the Gallente-Caldari War. "It's my favorite movie. I always watch it before I know I'm going into a fight."
He laughs when it's suggested that it inspires him. "Not really. It's a sad movie, from beginning to end. It's just that if I die tomorrow, I want this to be the last movie I watch."
Shin Anko has little time for luxuries like watching movies. He's still tinkering with the electronics of the ship he mans. "I discovered a small flaw in one of the power conduits. I need to repair it in order to get full function on it." The flaw he discovered would reduce the ship's power output by 0.000001%. CONCORD safety regulations state a ship can have no more than a 0.001% deviation from specs. The flaw would not even register on standard testing equipment.
"I fix all flaws. If I don't, and we lose, I don't want my last thoughts to be, 'Maybe if I'd fixed that flaw, we would have won.' That'd be an awful way to go."
Rozalin Fuma and her gunnery crew are celebrating together. "For most of them, this will be their first - and last - alliance tournament. Crews who participate and survive get a huge purse from the organizers, since it's so dangerous. Most of them will be able to retire if they want to. Even those who don't can probably move onto less dangerous work, like manning an InterBus ship or getting a cushy station job."
Though there's alcohol present, few of them touch it. "Getting drunk before a big fight is a good way to get yourself hurt. Even a split second of hesitation from a hangover can have you screwing up. I knew a guy once who cringed every time the gun fired because of his hangover. Before the fight was over, he'd got his hand caught in the hatch and lost three fingers. And he considered himself lucky."
Despite the risks involved, Rozalin isn't afraid. "You can't be afraid," she said. "Fear is a distraction. If you're afraid, you'll make a mistake. I can't afford to be afraid, and I can't afford for my crew to be afraid either."
Shin agrees. "If I die, well, everything is over. So it's not much point to think about what if I die. If I die, then nothing. I'm dead. If I live, then I have even more stuff to worry about."
Only Axel voices dissent. "If they say they aren't afraid, they're lying. Everyone is afraid before they go into battle. Everyone except the pod pilot, of course. We have escape pods and space suits and all sorts of safeguards to protect us in the event the ship gets destroyed. But the mortality rate is still incredibly high. Each fight I make it through, I feel lucky. So no, being afraid isn't a problem. It's letting that fear control you that is an issue."
Rozalin and Shin both take hours to fall asleep. Only Axel's sleep - sound and without interruption - shows that the fear does not control him.