I stand the long watch, with my home beneath me and my enemy out there, somewhere. Distant for now, but never for long. Time passes. Minutes flow into hours and blend into days, but through it all I stand the watch.
Sometimes I turn to idly wondering how long I have been here, holding this pattern. I could know with absolute certainty in a moment, with the simplest query of my ships systems. Yet I never do it. It hardly seems to matter, the knowledge would change nothing. I would be here no matter the time and regardless of the date.
Instead I turn my idle musing to thoughts of home, of the colony beneath me, of the modest structures protruding from the lonely rock and extending way beneath its surface. I grew up there, long ago. I ran through its cold hallways as a child, I worked the grimy docking bays as a youth and finally learned my first lessons in piloting a tiny shuttle craft there. I got my first taste of space back then, in a tiny piece of junk that could barely hold together outside of the docking bay.
It was glorious. I remember that first feeling, so long ago.
Not long after I left this place far behind. It was decades before I looked back. I went so far away, on a traders ship at first, then on another ship with another crew a few years later. Then on to another, and maybe a few more ships that I don’t even remember now. One day I found myself enrolling to a flight school back in Heimatar, then my life changed all over again. They tested me and made me a Capsuleer. They gave me immortality and opened doors that I never even dreamed existed.
I was granted my licence and then things got crazy. Wealth flowed into my pockets, powerful people started to know my name and everyone wanted my help with something. And I obliged them, provided the pay was right. Now I was somebody and all those obstacles that used to litter my life before just became nothing at all. My sights were set higher now, I rose high and fast and I was playing with the fire of gods.
I don’t even remember how I ended up on that battlefield, or even exactly where it was. It was an epiphany, as absurd as that may sound. Like I was opening my eyes from a long dream that I could already feel slipping away from me. There I was, surrounded by the aftermath of a great battle and no idea of why I was there and with no comprehension even of how I had come to arrive there. I awoke in this very ship. Its a small ship, hardly my largest, or even the most sophisticated. It is just a humble Rifter, a lowly frigate. But it has become the most important.
When I opened my eyes, I saw desolation. I was drifting between wreckage that would have eclipsed the whole colony that now lies beneath me. Huge constructions torn apart in violence that I can only recall as faint impressions of light and adrenaline, as feelings of urgency and rage. I’m not sure which of those ships had been allies and which the enemy, and I found myself unable to care either way.
I was out there some time staring at the twisted shapes that once were ships before I saw beyond them at what else was there. But once I finally did see them, I couldn’t see anything else at all. The other Capsuleers might have been long gone, survivors and victors flown away or the fallen having risen again to live another life uninterrupted. But the bodies remained. A few of them may have been the pod pilots, but not all. Not even close. I stared at the lost crews for a long time. I think I even remembered some of those ships that I had served on years before.
It was only really then I think that I had started to consider my own mortality. I had been made an immortal, and for years now I had lived as one. And yet by some fluke I had yet to die for the first time. I had always left my battles in my ship or my pod, and not once awoken to a clone vat. Maybe I had been cheating death all this time, but I was still living out my first life. Why I decided to start questioning my choices then is beyond me. But I know it started then. That was when I turned my ship and started moving.
I had no course at first, no destination in mind, I just had to be moving. I must have covered dozens of light years before my course became clear and direction returned to me. I started to move towards home, scouring the networks for information. I don’t think that my life ever had a purpose in all those years since I left home for the first time, and it never bothered me once in all the things I’ve done. But it came to me at last, the resolve that when this first life of mine ends, it must be with a purpose. And so I stand the watch.
Home is a small place in a backwater system. Two kinds of people settle out there, those looking to live independent lives and those looking to be out from under the rule of law. Home is a little trading post, a forgettable little stop over station for travellers on their way elsewhere. And moving all around it are people who like to mess with other people. I remember back when I was a kid that the occasional local thugs would cruise by looking for something to take that wasn’t theirs. They would come, they would demand something and then they’d get it. They were part of the reason I left, I hear things have gotten worse over the years. Now they are my reason to go back.
Immortality has its upsides I think, one of those is the luxury of patience. I just need to be here and wait, watching. I don’t need to sleep and I don’t need to eat. The ship provides. All I need do is stand the watch.
I am only a few days into my watch when the first of them comes. A lone frigate dropping from warp to demand tribute in the name of his bandit king. I destroy it with scarcely an effort. The next day three more come looking for the first. I destroy two before the third flees, I do not pursue it. I stand my watch.
Time passes, I do not bother to count it but after awhile more come. Five of them perhaps. I drive them off too, most fall and the last few flee before me. I stand my watch.
More time passes, occasionally the colony tries to contact me, or the raiders will send an envoy with an offer or question, sometimes even a threat. I do not respond, there is nothing to say. I simply stand the watch.
Finally they come for me in force. Frigates, destroyers, even cruisers arrayed before me. Is this the bandit king himself, come to answer my challenge? I do not know how many of them I can fight at once, even I have my limits. We stand opposed this would be king and I, he with his quest for wealth and I with my search for meaning. And an ending that fits. I have done much in this life of mine, but not much of it I look back on with pride.
Perhaps when I rise again I will be able to look back on this as the moment that defined my first mortal life. Maybe in the next one I will do better. Some Capsuleers live their lives in service to some higher cause than themselves, or so I hear. Here and now I think I am closer to understanding them, but that can wait until later, I have more pressing thoughts for now.
My enemy lies before me. I stand the watch.