Xing woke up in a clone.
Jin's adamant that I'll "get used to it" but I don't see how. This disjointed feeling is my brain rebelling at an obviously unnatural process.
Xing usually reacted poorly to a clone jump, but this time was worse than usual. The destroyed body had several high-grade neural augmentations that acted to improve Xing's focus and reactions.
I hate waking up as a slow shadow of my self.
Xing took a few stumbling steps around his Captain's Quarters. The sound of the warning Klaxons was still fresh in his mind.
Where was she? Takara knew to meet me after any jump to a fresh clone.
Xing moved to his captain's chair--a large leather affair. He considered searching for Takara but sat instead. He leaned over the arm of the chair as his stomach roiled. After Xing's first jump, he'd made sure to order clones prepared with an empty stomach.
It's still not as bad as that first time.
● ● ●
Xing grew up on Clellinon VII and, like the rest of the alPatar clan, joined the Federal Military on the day he came of age. The alPatars have long been a military family, but it was only recently that they've made the jump to being Capsuleers. Xing's brother Jin and their cousins—Amita & Hajeesh—were the first.
Jin, Amita & Hajeesh had all been granted immortality together and about 20 years sooner than anyone had expected. Either of these apart would be rare but both together meant something big had happened. Xing had searched through transmissions but found no public mention of a "special service" they performed for the High Command. He even went so far as to call in a favor from Azotte, his contact in the Federal Intelligence Office, but still found nothing.
Xing wouldn't have been so intent on finding out what happened except that Jin refused to say anything on the subject. He'd have expected that from Amita and Hajeesh—they were generally close-mouthed about everything—but he and Jin shared everything.
Xing was considering his next step when a communication from Jin came in.
"Are you ready for your final exam?" Jin asked.
"As ready as I'll ever be." Xing replied. "What's your ETA?"
Xing was currently orbiting Clellinon III as he waited for Jin to show up. The past two weeks—Xing's first as a Capsuleer—had been non-stop drills and simulations. Xing had heard stories from Jin & Amita about their first months as Capsuleers. They'd had no training and lacked mentors to guide their first steps. Xing was again reminded at just how much he owed his older brother. Not just for the training, but for even becoming a Capsuleer.
As soon as the first alPatars had become Capsuleers they worked tirelessly to attain enough influence to refer and recommend other members of the alPatar clan for immortality. Some will cry "Nepotism!" but the alPatars rarely trust anyone outside the family to guard their backs. In the course of just a few years the first three had added another dozen family members to the ranks.
Whatever service Jin, Amita & Hajeesh may have performed, there's nothing so terrible that it's not balanced out by granting immortality to the family.
"I'm exiting warp to your position now." Jin said.
A moment later Jin's Vexor class cruiser sped in from somewhere near the sun and decelerated to a stop near Xing's Catalyst class destroyer.
"Do you have our coordinates?" Xing asked.
"Yes, but give me a few minutes to double-check their position."
Xing saw some probes pop up on his overview before they sped off toward the last known location of the Serpentis Outpost.
Earlier in the week Jin was running Xing through drills using the new probes and probe launcher they'd received from the Sisters of Eve. They were both a little surprised to find a Serpentis Outpost in this system as it's heavily patrolled by the Federation Navy. They'd both served a term in the Navy so were familiar with these types of installations. The standard Navy protocol was to warp in an overwhelming force from all 6 cardinal directions with squads focusing on the most dangerous targets first. Even with such precautions, the Navy still occasionally lost ships.
Xing had wanted to report the outpost to the Navy, but Jin saw this as an opportunity. Jin had decided that clearing the outpost would be Xing's final exam.
The probes briefly flashed on Xing's overview before returning to Jin's ship.
"Just as we left it; there are only a handful of frigates in this outpost. I'm sending you the coordinates now."
Xing entered the coordinates and started to align his ship to warp to the hostile outpost.
"Remember your training and you'll do fine. I know at first it's strange to think that your single ship can do what would take a small Navy fleet; but as a Capsuleer you act as a force multiplier."
Xing had heard this all before and it was starting to make sense. When he started training with Jin he had assumed that his 10 years fighting Serpentis attacks with the Federation military would give him a leg up. He had since learned that was not the case. Commanding a ship from an isolated pod uses an entirely different set of skills than commanding a ship from the bridge. His whole mindset needed to adjust. An adjustment that was somewhat unpleasant.
"Thanks," Xing said, "I remember. I worked with my chief engineer, Takara, for the past 8 hours making sure this ship was in the best possible shape to take out these hostile forces."
"Good. And to reiterate: I'll be warping in with you, but I'm not going to intervene unless it's absolutely necessary. You need to learn the full capabilities of your ship, and that won't happen if you're relying on me."
The brothers had argued long and hard about this. Xing said they should go in together to minimize the chance of casualties. Working with his crew to outfit his ship had taught Xing to value their expertise. They finally reached the compromise where Jin would be present in his cruiser to help if needed.
"Alright, we're both aligned and at speed. Initiate warp on my mark."
It was a short battle that went as Jin had predicted. The advantage a Capsuleer has over a standard crew is incredible. Xing's ship made quick work of the Serpentis frigates. It was almost as if they melted under the power of his blasters.
When it was finished Xing looked over the status of his ship and saw that his shields and armor were both gone. The last frigate had even managed to get a shot through to the hull itself.
"Well, that was closer than I'd have preferred, Jin. But I think I understand why you say we're 'force multipliers'. The Navy would have needed at least a dozen ships to ensure they suffered no losses against this force."
"Can you send over a few of your maintenance drones while I look through the wrecks for anything we might salvage?"
Now that the fight was over Xing's mind was back to the other problem. What 'service' could Jin have performed that he refuses to speak of? He was so preoccupied that he didn't realize until it was too late that Jin hadn't sent maintenance drones. He'd sent combat drones.
Xing's ship was already defenseless and Jin's drones tore it to shreds.
Xing was dumbfounded. Why had Jin attacked me? Had he been thinking clearly he'd have immediately warped back to the station in his pod, but he just sat there until Jin destroyed that too.
Xing woke up in a clone.
His confusion with Jin's actions and the effects of the jump nearly incapacitated him. He stumbled toward the sink but vomited down his front.
Why was there even food in this stomach?
He fell to the ground and crawled to his chair. He climbed in slowly and sat there shaking. Xing's mind was so troubled he didn't even notice when Jin arrived.
Jin walked over and crouched down in front of his brother.
He put his hand on Xing's and said, "I know what you're feeling. I know you're upset. But this was a lesson you had to learn. As a Capsuleer your ship will be destroyed. Your pod will be destroyed. You are immortal now and you need to shake your fear of death."
"While we were training I saw you making the same mistakes I made during my first months. You grew close to your crew and were unwilling to take chances."
Oh god! The crew!
That realization showed clearly on Xing's face.
"I lost some highly talented crew members when I lost my first ship. I tried to spare you some of that at least. Before we set out I ordered Takara to remain behind and I drilled your crew on escape procedures. I recommend you do this again in the future, but the choice is yours." Jin finished.
Xing was overcome with relief. The crew was safe.
● ● ●
For Xing, that first jump was only a month in the past but he was starting to see Jin's purpose for that 'test'. There is a certain strength in fearlessness; even though Capsuleers are immortal, he had still feared death.
"Takara!" Xing shouted.
"I'm here, Xing." Takara said as she entered the Captain's quarters. "Sorry for the delay, this jump was pretty unexpected. What happened? Weren't you supposed to be mining? How was your pod destroyed?"
"There's an alliance in the north that's making a market play in blue ice. I'd heard rumblings of this but I didn't expect action on this scale. They're suiciding ships to destroy ice miners just to manipulate prices."
"You're right. But it's not exactly surprising, either."
Xing sighed as he thought about all those meaningless deaths just so that some Capsuleers in the north can turn a profit.
"And can you please be sure the families of my crew are taken care of?" Xing asked.
"Of course. And on the bright side, your younger sister has been accepted into the Capsuleer ranks based on your recommendation."
"Will you be running the same training that Jin did for you?" Takara asked.
"Of course. And as much as I hated it, I'll give Kamla the same final exam. When she arrives be sure to wish her luck. She'll need all she can get."