A Tale of Two Technologies
Cloning and the hydrostatic capsule are the two cornerstones of the capsuleer class, and as such represent arguably the two most important and influential technologies in New Eden. Clones, as used by capsuleers, can easily be considered the pinnacle of achievement in the allied sciences of cellular biology, molecular biology, and nanotechnology, and the capsule has all but revolutionized the starship field, outperforming any other method of vessel command by a wide margin.
But it wasn’t always so. When capsule technology was first made available, researchers and technicians soon discovered that despite the enormous advantages, capsule interfaces were extraordinarily difficult to use and posed a great deal of danger to those who attempted to do so, not least due to the myriad genetic differences between natural humans and their genetically engineered benefactors. For decades horror stories of the capsule circulated, creating a pernicious stigma around the technology. No financial or commercial institute was willing to invest the funding required to change the public perception that the capsule was essentially as effective as a highly sophisticated liquid-filled coffin.
Cloning, similarly, had not established much of a foothold until the last few decades. Not only was the process unreliable, but the very concept of cloning was also fiercely demonized by religious groups all over the universe for its perceived denial of the human soul. Prohibitively expensive and morally questionable, cloning was the domain of the dying rich. Even today, with cloning somewhat more commonly accepted (if not necessarily well regarded), stories persist of people blurring the lines of personhood and identity even further by cloning themselves into completely different bodies, across the gender and race gaps.
It is not known precisely when research into the principle of bringing together the capsule and the clone was conceived, nor when the capsule’s technology was dusted off to be assessed for potential compatibility. However, several years ago, in early YC 104, a breakthrough was made that changed the face of space flight forever. After years of dedicated research into the workings of the human mind and its electrochemical processes, the first transneural burn scanner interface was successfully integrated, installed, and tested in a newly constructed first-generation prototype capsule.
The burning scanner works by taking a full and accurate snapshot of the entire mind-brain state of human subjects, which can then be transmitted nearly instantaneously to a new clone, essentially allowing the subject to maintain the thread of consciousness through the death of the old body and into the new one, cheating death. The operation must be correctly timed, however, with a margin of error rarely exceeding a few nanoseconds. This is because the process of scanning is extremely disruptive of the brain’s delicate structures, essentially destroying the very brain it records.
The burning scanner raises the very problem of full mindbody cloning that the capsule solves. Since the scanner and its support systems are housed in a bank of equipment which requires close and stable proximity to the brain, it is in no way possible to wear the technology on one’s person. Mounting the equipment in vehicles and even flight decks is problematic as well, since the scanner needs to fire within a precise window of time, right at the subject’s death. False stimuli, momentary separation from the equipment, or accidents that can take place in unsealed environments are all problems that can cause misfiring of the scanner. Firing too early can cause grave psychological problems or even corrupted scans, as certain brain region activity disrupts the proper functioning of the scan. Firing too late similarly has its problems. Scanning a brain that is too far in the process of dying will result in a mind state record that is essentially brain damaged. At worst, it will result in an inert mind reduced to nothing more than autonomic functionality.
The hydrostatic capsule provides a nearly ideal solution to the problems posed by the transneural burning scanner. In the first place, it is a sealed environment with a very clear set of tolerances and breach parameters. If the capsule breaches without the proper authorizations, the system assumes a catastrophic situation and instantly administers a nanotoxin that produces a reliable death process in the pilot. The burning scanner can therefore safely operate within the precise window required. Moreover, the scanner can and has been successfully integrated into capsule systems to take advantage of its power, data storage, and FTL communications capabilities.
Following the success of the capsule-clone integration tests, the decision was made to license qualified individuals as independent capsule pilots with associated clone contracts and access to capsule technology. The capsuleers, beneficiaries of the union of two remarkable and intersecting complexes of technology, had emerged. There followed a great boom in space technology and industry, rapid expansion of cloning facilities, and a large program of FTL communications web enhancement via the New Eden star gate network, as the empires vied with one another to support and attract this new class of spacefaring immortal.
Becoming a Capsuleer
Pod pilot candidates are a rare breed. Only 14 percent of all those who apply are able to make it past prescreening into basic training, and only around 5 percent of those manage to make it through the entire program and go on to become capsuleers. Prospective candidates must satisfy a broad range of criteria, including but not limited to: 20/20 vision, perfect hearing, blood pressure within a highly limited range, peak physical conditioning (able to run at least 60 kilometers without pause), a complete genome profile that excludes any possibility of genetic defects or hereditary disease, ninety-eighth percentile intelligence, a degree in a sufficiently advanced technical field, and, provided no grants or scholarships are in the picture, an enormous amount of money. Above all, the candidate must possess an ability to keep his mind working along several different tracks at once, giving full attention to all of them simultaneously.
Once past prescreening, a candidate is given a thorough grounding in capsule and cloning technology, as well as the specifics of what sets a capsule-fitted starship apart from a traditional, bridge-commanded vessel. He learns how to manage crews on varying sizes of ship, how to conduct basic maintenance, and myriad other tricks of the trade. The length of this book-learning phase varies between schools, though it is never less than one full year and very seldom more than two. The period culminates in a six-hour-long oral exam, during which the candidate’s depth of knowledge is assessed, as well as his ability to think on his feet and respond to unexpected sets of variables. Regardless of how well a candidate has been doing up until this point, if he does not convince his instructor beyond the shadow of a doubt that his knowledge is bulletproof, he will be failed out of the program and sent home.
Once the initial academic phase is over, a two-year period of grueling physical orientation begins. After being fitted with the requisite implants for capsule interfacing (and provided their bodies don’t outright reject the implants), prospects are subjected to days upon end of deprivation tanks, zero-G environments, and shock simulations intended to acclimate the body and mind to the rigors of travel through warp tunnels and wormholes. This, by far, is the training phase where the largest proportion of candidates fail out of the program.
Most of the ones that do simply cannot tolerate the constant barrage of physical pain and conditioning, interspersed with the interminable periods of sensory deprivation. About to lose their sanity or patience or both, they sign their own termination slips. Some refuse to give up, but are not rewarded for their persistence: this phase of training has the highest mortality rate of the entire program. Exact numbers are not available, but it is estimated that roughly a tenth of all candidates lose their lives at some point in this phase.
For the few who manage to make it through orientation, the learning can begin in earnest. The last two years of the program are devoted exclusively to developing the skills needed to be an effective pilot, including hardpoint configuration, warp mechanics, shield system operation, signature analysis, astrometrics, and a host of associated skills. For the first of these two years, candidates will fly solely in simulations; for the second year, they are finally allowed to fly their first capsule-fitted frigates.
Once a candidate makes it through the entire five years of mental and physical hardship and exertion, he is ready to face the final test: in order to gain his certification and become a full-fledged capsuleer, he must submit to voluntary euthanasia, give up the body he was born in, and clone into a new version of himself, for the first time coming squarely face to face with death. Despite the prodigious investment of time and energy the preceding years have demanded, it’s surprising to note how many candidates cannot make this final step, forgoing all they’ve learned because they can’t bear to cross the Rubicon into posthumanity.
For the others, their journey is just beginning.
Whether fresh out of an academy or a grizzled veteran, a capsuleer has a skill set that is always in high demand, with a tremendous variety of work available. Here is a breakdown of a few fields where capsuleers can commonly be found.
In a cluster filled with demigods killing each other in endless cycles, it is not often that one gives thought to the humble trader. Yet a blaster cannot be fired without a charge and a mercenary isn’t going to do much good without his drop suit. The humble trader, so often forgotten by those who deal only in death, perhaps holds more power than all of them combined. Without the trader, goods would never be moved from one place to another, the markets would be bare, and the economy would collapse.
Traders bridge manufacturers and consumers, making sure goods are available to people across the cluster, and yet they are often forgotten when discussions are raised concerning the economics of the galaxy. Many of them prefer it this way, content to make their billions in relative obscurity while others risk their lives for comparatively meager rewards.
At its core, trading involves buying goods at a low price and selling them at a high price. These goods might be minerals, weapons, or even ships. A trader’s work can be as simple as setting up a buy order a few thousand ISK below the market value, waiting for it to be filled, then listing it for what it’s worth. Taking it a few steps further, traders may move their goods from a busy trade hub where prices are low to a slower one where prices are at a premium.
But trading can be a much more complicated and involved vocation than many might think. While at its simplest, trading involves buying goods in one hub and moving them to another, the actual act of trading is much more of a science, especially at its highest levels. Traders must constantly be on top of local needs and demands, often anticipating situations before they fully develop. Intelligence gathering can play a vital role, so the consummate trader must keep her ears open to all sorts of rumors which might sway purchasing trends.
Many traders have made a killing by listening to rumors from R&D corps, plying researchers for news of unannounced breakthroughs which might suddenly turn an unappreciated ship into a hot seller. Banking on this insider info, the trader might buy up a heap of ships at low cost and then mark them up, beating the manufacturers to the market and turning a hefty profit for only a few hours’ work.
Others have heard rumors of war breaking out, or of a new offensive by one of the capsuleer militias, and hauled a large store of ships and weapons into a burgeoning war zone. After a few days of fighting, when the choice lies between either traveling twenty jumps to the nearest hub or buying for a mild markup locally, the combatants will generally snap up what’s available and line the trader’s pockets.
Traders may even find themselves privy to the comings and goings of alliances. If a large alliance is about to interdict a particular resource, the wise trader will stockpile it, wait for the interdiction to hit its height, and then dump her goods into a starved market.
Of course, not every trader is a simple purveyor of goods who takes advantage of supply and demand dynamics. Many operate outside the realm of what is strictly legal. New Eden has a thriving black market for all sorts of goods, some of which are heavily regulated by CONCORD and the empires. Getting these goods from place to place is accomplished by skilled border runners who operate in fast moving, hardto- catch ships. Often ducking into dangerous, low security space, they risk life and limb for massive paydays when their illicit wares reach the waiting hands of greedy consumers.
Much of the criminal underground is built around the booster market. Boosters, a form of narcotic drug, are consumed throughout New Eden by the rich and impoverished alike. Whether the drugs are taken recreationally, to combat inner demons, or simply to feed an addiction, drug mules and pushers move them across the cluster in search of profit. Considering many of the harder drugs can be used to manufacture neural boosters, which can vastly improve a capsuleer’s combat capabilities, the rewards for venturing toward the seedier side of the profession can be great.
Despite seeming to be a fairly safe occupation on the whole, trading can earn a person a host of enemies. Manipulation of markets using flipped goods can quickly lead to the wrong types of attention from both the authorities and other traders. More than one war has been started by a trader attempting to move into another’s territory and not knowing when to back down.
The builders are the shakers. Nothing comes from nothing. Each and every ship, module, drone, and even round of ammo was created by someone, somewhere. Whether it was a lone entrepreneur mining his own minerals to build his standard laser crystals or the head of a hundred-person industrial chain churning out every flavor of Tech II ship, the manufacturer is the backbone of both New Eden’s vibrant economy and its bloody battles.
Thousands of ships are destroyed in New Eden every day and these ships need to be replaced. Manufacturers diligently toil to make sure that if an ill-fated destroyer explodes in one corner of the cluster, there will always be another available. The vocation often suits those who are not eager to engage in combat and are looking for a more passive lifestyle.
Manufacturing, at least that which occurs on scales capsuleers care about, occurs almost entirely in space. The ore is mined there and transported to stations, where it is refined into minerals, which are then hammered, shaped, alloyed, molded, and formed into complete products in huge factories.
Any and all goods can be manufactured in these factories. Using advanced robotics, they can take an input of minerals and output a fully functional spaceship a few hours or days later. They accomplish this feat through the use of blueprints, special code that programs the robots to manufacture every piece down to the last atom. Of course, skilled researchers can increase the speed and efficiency of their blueprints with proper research, allowing them to use up fewer resources and accomplish their tasks in a fraction of the time.
Of course, there are a limited number of factories in each station and the most popular systems will quickly find all their slots constantly occupied. This forces manufacturers to slowly disperse into outer systems, where conflict is much more rife. For those who live out in the dangerous areas of nullsec or wormhole space, assembly arrays can be attached to star bases for the manufacture of most ships, modules, and ammo. Naturally, these are often prime targets for enemies who can cripple a corporation’s supply chain, particularly if it is a capital ship assembly array in the process of building a Titan or a supercarrier.
While there exist numerous manufacturers of mundane goods in New Eden, they are typically restricted to the large, faction-aligned corporations that service the trillions of baseline citizens of the empires. Those who run in capsuleer circles focus primarily on engines of death and destruction: ships, modules, and ammo.
The simplest manufacturers are those who work on a single blueprint and churn out low-cost bulk goods that are widely consumed. Capsuleers can eat through hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammo in a single day, and a skilled manufacturer with a well-researched blueprint can turn a steady, if small, profit by simply filling this need. But this is no path to prosperity. The top echelon of manufacturers have a diverse portfolio of blueprints which can produce a variety of top-end goods.
Sometimes they may own the majority of blueprints in the cluster, allowing them to effectively corner the market on certain ships or modules and thus set their own prices. Of course, there are times when a pesky upstart will do some research and development and invent a blueprint of his own that allows him to muscle in on the action, but that’s why a good manufacturer does not stick to one product. To be specialized is to lack adaptability, and when a competitor who is better at exploiting a niche arrives, those who are too reliant on a small pool of blueprints can quickly find themselves pushed out of the market.
Economic warfare of this sort is almost as bloody as the most devastating military conflicts in New Eden. Trillions of ISK can be lost as manufacturers try to undercut each other, hire mercenaries to drive their competitors out of the market, commit espionage and sabotage, and wind up sending each other spiraling into ruin. While the explosions may not be as flashy and the names are not as well known to the general populace, the rise and fall of manufacturing empires can be every bit as dramatic as the fates of their military counterparts.
It’s easy to make enemies in New Eden, but it’s not always possible to personally deal with those who have wronged you. That’s why bounties are so prevalent among the denizens of deep space. Place a price on a person’s head, and sooner or later a bounty hunter will come to collect. When that enemy is a capsuleer, things can get tricky.
When someone is able to die repeatedly, the old adage “Wanted: Dead or Alive” is rendered somewhat meaningless. Kill a pod pilot and she’ll simply wake up safe in a clone vat dozens of jumps away. Additionally, pod pilots are infinitely more dangerous than their non-capsule-fitted counterparts, able to take out great numbers of ships and cause untold collateral damage in both lives and money. For this reason, hunting capsuleers is a domain almost exclusively inhabited by other capsuleers. But it is a life fraught with peril. A bounty hunter rarely acts alone, as even the ugliest monsters of the cluster have friends.
New Eden is a big place, and as such contains plenty of places to hide. Tracking down someone with a large bounty can be a difficult task, but capsuleers are resourceful in all things. Some of the most tapped-in individuals across the cluster are the various agents working on behalf of the empires’ corporations. A few of them are willing to call in favors and locate a person for a price.
Of course, the cleverest capsuleers can find other ways to track down their prey. Many capsuleer organizations keep publicly viewable records of the destruction their pilots engage in, and using that information, a smart bounty hunter can figure out when and where a bounty target is going to be lurking. A little more research can turn up a list of the targets’ associates, what sorts of ships they’re likely to pilot and when, and even the most common tactics they employ against their enemies.
In an effort to avoid capsuleers collecting bounties on themselves, CONCORD will only pay out a portion of a bounty directly proportional to the value of the destroyed ship. Therefore, if a bounty target is destroyed in a small frigate with inexpensive equipment, the reward will only be a small amount, even if he has a billion-ISK bounty on his head.
Among bounty hunters, there’s a thin line between the law and the lawless. Though many come into the profession with dreams of making New Eden a better place by removing the scum of the world, experience soon teaches them that the realities are not so black and white. The biggest bounties aren’t always placed on the worst criminals. Instead, they wind up collecting on the heads of innocents who just happened to rub enough bad people the wrong way. Sure, they may be annoying or even despicable, but often they’ve broken no laws. Sometimes they’ve done nothing wrong besides being abrasive.
Additionally, the hunters can often find themselves the hunted, with massive bounties placed on their own heads by the people they’ve tracked down and killed for profit, sometimes over and over. The smart bounty hunter will know how to turn this to her own advantage, luring other bounty hunters to their doom.
Those who entered the business with idealistic minds can quickly find their morals eroded. Bounty hunting becomes less about tracking down criminals and meting out justice, and more about collecting money from whoever is willing to pay it. For some, it devolves into simply killing for the sake of doing so. Indeed, through either avarice or sudden circumstance, bounty hunters commonly find themselves sitting in the role of the villain they once hunted, unsure of how exactly they got there.
Some of the most well-known and influential capsuleer outlaws, upon graduation from their respective naval academies, immediately abscond to the border regions to begin plying their trade. Many have formed their own gangs, corporations, and coalitions over the last decade, with a number of pilots rising to celebrity status due to their audacious and highly illegal antics.
The rise of this breed of pirates began immediately with the commercial release of reliable capsule technology, which has been adopted by most pirate groups as protection for key pilots vital to operations and leadership.
Since YC 105, piracy has taken on many forms. From the early sorties and blockades of star gates in the systems of Mara and Passari to loosely organized groups harassing trade routes on the borders of the Great Wildlands region, pirate operations have left no area of New Eden untouched over the last decade.
The early years of piracy saw fast gangs of frigates and cruisers stage raids into both high-security empire space and alliance-controlled areas of nullsec before larger and more highly organized pirate corporations began to emerge, some with hundreds of capsuleers flying their colors. Smuggling also tends to be a profession favored by the capsuleer elite, with hundreds of billions in illicit cargo crossing borders across New Eden every month.
With the further advancement of starship technology in recent years and the public release of blueprints for Capitaland Supercapital-class hull designs, some of the larger organizations have risen to great notoriety, claiming and holding their own space or contracting themselves out as mercenaries to assault heavily fortified territories of capsuleer alliances competing with their contractors.
While the vast majority of capsuleers form allegiances to their own organizations, there are a notable number who choose to fly in support of the largest pirate cartels in New Eden, subcontracting themselves as guns for hire and effectively acting as long-term mercenaries. Quite often these individuals and their organizations are taken under the wing of the major cartels and offered work from their agents.