Eye of the Serpent — Episode One “The Black Freighter”

(Originally posted on SweetLittleBadGirl on 2011.03.25. Second-place winner in a player-run fiction contest and published in E-ON magazine.)

First launched in YC93, Eye of the Serpent earned immediate notoriety for both its ambitious script and its simplistic production design. Now celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its release, the cast and crew have been reunited to share their memories of the experience, offering a unique glimpse behind what has become one of the Federation’s most iconic holoserials.

JAIAL RHEINN (Writer)

Eye of the Serpent was… well, my first professional work, I’d have to say. I did other holoserial scripts before, but those were just one-off episodes; Eye was the first production I was fully in charge of, and I really, really pushed the limits. I created two main characters, one of whom wouldn’t even appear until the second year. There was Adrian Fray, who was this FIO agent working under deep-cover within the Serpentis, feeding intel back to his handlers and trying to-to keep the outlaws from getting too powerful. Then there was Gamma Reyvis, who was this really quite ambitious underling of Salvador Sarpati, who fancies herself a better leader for the Serpentis.It was complex, dark, very serious with… I tried to inject a very dry, gallows-type humour. (laughs) I like to think I succeeded.”

KEI LeMAR (“Adrian Fray”)

“When I was first approached by the producers to play Adrian, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It was more ambitious and boundary-pushing than most holoserials at the time, and… I think the portrayal of people like Sarpati, people who are not only still alive but well-known… made it a bit risky (laughs).”

CORTINA HARRAN (Co-producer)

“It helped, I think, that we presented it to the studios as a comedy, rather than a serious drama. It was aimed at a younger audience, though it gained quite a following among adults as well.”

NARET LAISSATA (Director)

“It was a risk, a big risk. We almost didn’t get a studio to take it, but eventually Essence Syndication Network took us on, with the threat that, if it didn’t pay off in the first six months, we were going to be shut down. We mostly paid out of our pockets, and you can tell in those early episodes by the-the overabundance of product-placement that we were taking a lot of advertising money just to keep a roof over our heads.”

~*~

A dimness at first, in which dark shapes can only just be seen. Somewhere, sluggish water is dripping, an eerie counterpoint to the subsonic rumbling of a ship’s systems at rest. A beam of light cuts through the darkness, blinding momentarily before swinging back the other direction.

“Fray, are you sure about this?”

“Shh!”

“This ship is huge Adrian, there’s no way we’ll find–”

The light goes dim as the first voice, a quavering tenor, yelps and falls with a splash. White torchlight silhouettes the forms of two men as the taller of the two helps the other back to his feet. “It’s here, René, if you’d actually looked over the real manifest rather than the ‘official manifest’…”

“Ugh.” The smaller man makes a futile effort to wipe water from his sodden trousers. “You’d think they could maintain their ships better.”

“At least it means we’re not likely to run into anyone else down here.” Fray trains the beam of his FedMart-brand NightTorch up the racktower storage arrays, towering skeletal frames set in tracks on the floor and ceiling, hypertensile tritanium alloy shelves designed to house massive freight containers and make loading and unloading easier. “You don’t want to think where it might be coming from.”

~*~

LARU en KIMA (“Little René”)

“The water. That damnable water (laughs). I fell in there, tripped over one of the guiderails, and that was not scripted. They left it in anyway.”

NARET LAISSATA (Director)

“At the time, the popular thing was to have holoseries recorded entirely on sound-stages with the set added in later via computer simulation. We could no more afford that sort of technical setup than we could afford to shoot on-site, so what we did was find, well, junkyards, essentially, where there were a few hulls that were still airtight that hadn’t been stripped by scavengers. For the first episode, it was an Obelisk-class freighter. If we’d tried to film the series like that today, I’m not sure we’d have been permitted. I still don’t want to think what might have been in that water.”

L’SIATA ROUVENOR (Co-producer)

“I think the mere fact that we found those locations to film at — scrapyards we really should not have been in, station hallways with the general population as our unwitting extras, film crew-members’ redecorated quarters — made it ground-breaking in its simplicity and realism. It was allrecognisable and familiar to the audience.”

KEI LeMAR (“Adrian Fray”)

“Get in trouble? Sure we did. Get stared at, in those ridiculous outfits? (laughs) I had to work out daily, every single breakfast pastry showed in those tight jumpsuits. It was the fashion at the time for kids’ programming: you could have the darkest storyline in the world, as long as there was no swearing and the set was all vivid, happy colours. We got dark at times, we really wanted to use the first episode to let them know we weren’t just playing around.”

~*~

“Sst!” Fray skids to a stop on the slippery floor, an arm extended to hold René back. “You hear that?”

The smaller man is shaking his head adamantly. “I don’t want to hear anything except you saying it’s time to go, Fray, we shouldn’t even be here…”

“It came from over here…” The tall, dark-haired Gallentean sloshes through the muck down a side-passage between rusted-out containers.

“Fray! Sssss! Bring the light back!” Muttering under his breath, the shorter blond man picks his way carefully through the knee-deep water as Fray turns to wait for him. “You know what your problem is? You’re too eager.”

Fray’s finely chiselled features arrange themselves into a frown, underlit starkly by the white torchlight. “I don’t have a problem. Do I have a problem? I have a job to do, here.”

~*~

KEI LeMAR (“Adrian Fray”)

“The dialogue. Oh! That was great fun. Jaial is a really good writer, really good. It always amazes me when people criticise the dialogue and say it was bad. It was done that way on purpose.”

JAIAL RHEINN (Writer)

“It was part irony and part… part social commentary, really, to make the dialogue the way it was. We must have spent upwards of three weeks debating how to do it. The studio was on our case to make it funny, to make it child-friendly and accessible. We had a lot of fun bending the rules, and the actors… I think they took it and started hamming it up even more.”

~*~

Fray pauses near a freight container, leaning his ear close to the flaking metal, water sloshing around his boots. A soft tap on the side elicits a rustle of movement from within, and the lean Intaki reaches up to pull the security pin from the latch. A shriek of terror echoes through the hold as water begins to seep through the opening, and René flinches.

“Oh great! Close it up!”

Ignoring him, Fray casts the beam of the NightTorch through the hatch, the bright white spotlight passing across the frightened faces of a dozen filthy Minmatar children huddled as far back as they can. Murmuring reassurances, Fray crouches down on the floor of the container, propping the torch on the floor. He tries a couple different languages until the children react to his words; then he asks questions. One of the oldest, a Sebiestor girl with tangled dark hair, answers him hesitantly.

~*~

FEILLI FARRACHT (“Miryol”)

“I was the only one of the children with a name. None of the others really had to do anything except look terrified and go where we were told. They had a boy chosen originally to play Miryol, but he came down sick the day before filming and couldn’t get out of bed. They gave the script to me because I was the only other one who could speak a Sebiestor dialect.”

CORTINA HARRAN (Co-producer)

“The inclusion of the children’s sub-plot and introducing the character of Miryol was a last-minute thing. The studio came down and told us we couldn’t have a children’s show without a child of the target age being a recurring character. we almost had to bin the whole thing, but Jaial really came to the rescue, it was a stroke of genius.”

~*~

Sighing, Fray backs out of the container, then rises to face René. “Refugee kids. Their parents were promised they’d be educated and taken care of.”

The smaller Gallente man snorts. “Oh, yeah, they’ll be taken care of alright. Probably in the drug factories as test subjects or carriers.” He eyes Fray grimly. “Don’t think you can help them, Adrian, it’ll be noticed and so will you. And me. I don’t know about you but I like my thumbs where they are.”

Fray’s expression tightens, a dark fire in his blue eyes. “Well, I’m not leaving them here to be swamped. The access stair to the next level was over there, right?”

Fray–

“I mean it, René.” He leans back into the freight container, holding his hand out to the Sebiestor girl. She hesitates only a moment before seizing his fingers in hers, then turning to talk to the other children. Shortly, the two Gallentean spies are leading them between the stacked freight containers, René muttering under his breath and looking constantly over his shoulders.

Fray coaxes them up to the to the dry second tier and over to a dark space in the shadows. Speaking softly, he offers his name. The girl looks uncomfortable for a moment, then says, “Miryol.”

~*~

KEI LeMAR (“Adrian Fray”)

” A lot of what we did was very much by the seat of our pants, you know, we had things scripted but then things would get changed at the last second. Originally, I was supposed to close the kids back into the crate with a promise to return, but the water on the floor was a surprise. I felt Adrian wasn’t the sort of guy who’d just leave a bunch of kids in a dark crate anyway, but the water really sealed the deal.”

LARU en KIMA (“Little René”)

“René was… well, he was meant to be a very self-serving, calculating sort. Fray’s conscience and guide, if you will. But he always seemed to me to be a bit of a coward. He’s in a very dangerous occupation and would really rather not do anything at all to gain attention from the wrong people, and I sat down with both Jaial and Naret to see if we could develop that a bit more.”

~*~

“Adrian, that was way, way out of line. How are we going to cover this up?” René is fretting, one hand repeatedly readjusting his collar. Fray smiles mischievously, a grin that would become famous over the next three years.

“I’ve just thought of something. Follow me.”

The taller man leads the way out of the cargo hold. The crew lift is damaged, so he jimmies the lock on the access stairs while René groans in disbelief. “What are you doing?”

“Cargo manifest will be in the bridge computer. It’ll save us a lot of time.”

The shorter man looks as though he’d rather be anywhere else but follows, shaking his head. The beam from their NightTorch flares and arcs as they follow the winding, rusted stairs around the curve of the lift shaft.

“Ugh.” René leans on the wall as they reach the top. “Tell me the bridge is close.”

Fray points along the hallway, the lights set dim for station-side night. “Just up there.” He makes his way down the corridor, René trailing close behind, and quietly slides open the door at the far end.

Dimmed orange light illuminates the curved expanse of the bridge, consoles darkened and shut down. The Federal agent locates the main computer panel and begins to hack through the security. The whine of a blaster pistol powering up causes both men to turn suddenly.

“Who are you guys?”

~*~

LARU en KIMA (“Little René”)

“They did a fantastic job making that rusted-out shell of an Obelisk look active. Generators to power the lights and all, and we all chipped in to help clean up the upper levels. The places we filmed in the hold were the same three alleys between the freight containers; there were only about fifteen of them, and the crew rearranged them so that the place looked filled no matter the angle.”

L’SIATA ROUVENOR (Co-producer)

“Jaial originally wrote the character of Little René to be a sort of comic relief supporting role, but when we got down to the filming we realised that it would look better if he was on more of an equal standing with Adrian. They’re both agents for the FIO, they both have a lot of physical and academic training. The only real difference is that René is very cautious and has been in there for a long time, while Adrian is much younger, a new face among the Serpentis. Almost all of what he does horrifies René, who specialises more in cloak-and-dagger than in being a man of action. It was a different dynamic from most children’s shows back then.”

~*~

Fray raises his hands, showing them empty, but gives a confident smile. “Serpentis Corporate Security, captain. Can you tell me about your cargo? The manifest raised an alert and you must understand we want to make certain everything is in order.”

The freighter captain pales and swallows nervously. “Oh… oh. It’s about that, isn’t it? I never wanted to carry it, it wasn’t my idea but… it’s money, man. You know?”

Fray is nodding readily. “Of course, of course. I must ask to inspect it, however. I’m sure you understand the risks involved.”

The captain drops his arm, the pistol’s amber targeting beam sweeping to the floor. “Y-yeah. Yeah, sure. It’s in the secure cargo.” He leads the undercover agents back down to a separate cargo level with a heavy security door. Fumbling with the keypad, he babbles, “I-I never wanted to carry it, man, you know? It was just too much of a risk…” Behind his back, Fray and René exchange a puzzled glance.

~*~

KEI LeMAR (“Adrian Fray”)

“Adrian is… a very social animal, you know, he’s very charismatic and personable and he has an ability to read people and respond with what they expect to hear. It’s part innate ability and part expensive implants and training, and it’s how he reached his position within the FIO as an undercover agent.”

JAIAL RHEINN (Writer)

“I wanted to show very early on what the characters of Adrian and René were like, I didn’t want to have any horrible clichés involving secret identities or dark pasts… the sort of tropes that were popular at the time, there was an utter rash of those sorts of antiheroes at the time, and I thought it was about time that children had.. well, a real hero to look up to.”

KEI LeMAR (“Adrian Fray”)

“I didn’t want to be-be put on a pedestal, you know, I’m not comfortable with heights at all (laughs). But it was… I found it moving, really, when I learned that Adrian Fray was such a great role model.”

~*~

The centre of the floor is occupied by a solid crate, anchored by heavy bolts to the decking; the pale half-light of a security field hums around it. The freighter captain takes a step back, allowing the two agents access. “I don’t have the pass for the field, you understand–“

The shriek of an alarm cuts him off mid-sentence. Fray catches his arm before he can bolt away down the corridor. “What is that?!”

“Containment alarm from the main hold! We need to evacuate!”

The Intaki releases the captain’s arm, yelling over the sirens, “We’ll be right behind you!” He watches as the captain runs for the exit, then turns to see René popping the lock on the crate. The smaller man glances up at him, holding up a palm-sized electronic security breaker.

“We went to far too much trouble to get here just to be scared off. Give me a hand here.”

Together, they open the crate. Crystalline green light spills out across their faces, illuminating Fray’s broad grin and René’s puzzled frown.

“Is this… it?”

Adrian Fray reaches into the crate and lifts out a scintillating optical-crystal sculpture, fragile-looking tendrils curving and swirling around a core of light. “You bet it is. The Serpent’s Eye. Stolen from a museum in the Fed last month. This thing is priceless and older than dirt. I don’t know why they wanted it, but they’re not buying anybody with it now.” He gestures impatiently with one hand and René quickly pulls a collapsible box from a pouch at his waist and pops it into shape. The green light disappears as Fray secures the lid over the sculpture. “You take care of the package! I’ll see to the kids!”

“You aren’t seriously going back for them!”

“I sure am! Get going!”

Fray clatters down the stairs, arriving at the bottom with a splash. Looking around, he starts to head toward the second level when a slender pale hand grabs his. He spins, a slender pistol appearing in his hand, then relaxes as he sees Miryol. In her language, he asks, “Where are the others? There’s something leaking in here.”

The girl shakes her head. “They’re safe, near the exit. I pulled the alarm.”

Fray reacts with surprise. “You pulled it?”

The Sebiestor girl smiles. “I was in training to serve on a ship like this before we were brought from the Empire. I’m good with electronics.”

Laughing, the Gallente scoops the girl into his arms and hurries with her across the cargo bay. “I’ll have to keep that in mind. You’ve been a big help today.”

It’s a tool, not a handicap

You know what irritates me the most when watching films set amidst a mediaeval war? How they deal with swords and armour.

Not every film or show does this, but in productions of which I would expect better, people flail swords around like they’re crowbars, and clomp about in their armour like Ripley in her power-loader. If that’s really how things were, it’s amazing humanity made it through the middle ages.

Look, I’m a swordfighter; I’ve worn armour. I’m not Wonder Woman, nor am I built like a brick sh*thouse (well, okay, I am; a very small one). I can say with confidence that plate armour does not have to be designed any differently regardless of whether the wearer is male or female; it does need to be designed to the scale of the wearer of course, but breastplates — not boobplates — function the way they’re supposed to regardless of the wearer’s physicality underneath. You can turn cartwheels in a properly-fitted suit of armourModern armies understand this. So why does it persist in popular culture?

A sword is a weapon. It’s a tool, it’s balanced to make combat fluid, effective and deadly. Even those immense 6-foot greatswords were entirely useable; the soldiers didn’t just stagger over and try to DROP them on someone (honestly, one of my history professors at Edinburgh University said that in total seriousness). A greatsword weighs in at about 10 pounds; our smaller cat weighs that much. If you spend regular practice sessions maneuvering that mass around — which is balanced around the hands — you get used to controlling it very quickly. I’m relatively small, and I can put up a good fight with a longsword that’s roughly 2/3 my height.

Which is why it infuriates when I see actors, playing characters who have supposedly been using these tools all their adult lives, dragging around single-handed bastard swords (roughly three pounds of steel, balanced an inch or so in front of the hilt) like steel baseball-bats, and plodding around in steel plate like they’re carrying a tank on their shoulders. It’s very rare to have production-quality gear made of traditional materials, but the playacting of carrying weight is going a bit far.

The God-Makers

(Originally posted on Sweet Little Bad Girl)

 

Lu Tien Hannarad fastened his coverall securely at the shoulder and paused to check in the mirror. Pale blue and spotless, it gave the young man a distinguished look, or so he felt. He hoped. He rubbed his hands together in an attempt to stop their trembling.

This was a big day.

At the door, he paused, taking a deep breath and allowing it to rattle his narrow frame on its way out. ‘Relax,’ he whispered. ‘You can do this. It’s just like the exams.’

He was shaking.

In the next room, a man and a woman were waiting, seated at a table and looking over holograms projected into the air above its surface. The man, Alric Takiri, looked up.

‘Ah, Lu Tien, we’re just reviewing the procedures for today’s subject. Take a seat.’

The woman, Vienne Miyental, keyed up another image. ‘I realise this is your first procedure outside of the exam holos, Lu Tien, so you’ll have both of us keeping an eye on your progress today. Alric will be assisting you, I’ll be back at the control desk watching on camera while I keep an eye on her vitals.’

Lu Tien nodded, not trusting his voice. Vienne rested her hand on his. ‘Relax. There isn’t much that can go wrong here which can’t be fixed quickly and easily with minimal impact. Our subject today is in good health. She’s prepared herself for this day for the last five years, and now it’s up to you to bring her dreams to life.’ Her fingers squeezed his momentarily and released.

The young man gave his superiors a wobbly smile. ‘So no pressure, huh?’

They reviewed the procedure step by step over the next hour, and Lu Tien began to relax. It waslike in the exams, except this time he would have living flesh and blood under his hands. Vienne and Alric would be there the whole time, he wouldn’t be alone, and despite the complexity of the procedure, it wouldn’t be life-threatening.

She was waiting in a comfortably-furnished room just outside of the surgery, looking neat and official in her Academy undress uniform. They shook her hand and Alric introduced Lu Tien as Doctor Hannarad, the cybernetics technician in charge of the procedure; Lu Tien bowed and expressed his pleasure at meeting her and the honour he felt at being the one to work on her. She smiled and said the honour was hers. An assistant came and led her away to the prep room while the three technicians returned to the surgery to make certain all was in order and ready.

Lu Tien’s shakes had returned. ‘I don’t know if I can do this…’ He surveyed the array of equipment laid out on tables and trolleys and platters before him: the tools of the trade he had so long hoped to excel in. Alric’s hand gripped Lu Tien’s shoulder.

‘You can. We’ll catch you if you stumble, but we’re not here to hold you up.’

Soon, too soon, the young woman was wheeled in on a surgical trolley, already sedated and laid facedown with her hands resting on shelves below the level of the table-top to prevent circulatory disfunction; she was naked but for the open-backed operatory gown and a paper-fabric sheet draped over her legs. Vienne plugged in and started the bank of computers monitoring the woman’s heart rate, brain function and neural network. Assistants swarmed around Lu Tien and Alric, faceless in surgical masks and caps, ever-present, never intrusive, prepping the technicians to work their craft in turning an ordinary pilot into a capsuleer.

Alric took up a position on the opposite side of the patient from Lu Tien. ‘While this procedure is not risky in the sense that it could potentially maim or kill the subject, there is a chance that minor damage may be done to the spinal structure. In that sense, we must be cautious. She already has the initial training jacks and wiring; what we’re doing is merely upgrading the system. Lu Tien: begin.’

He’d feared the nervous trembling would cause him to falter, but as he prepared to work, the shakes eased. By the time the first incision was made, a sense of peace had stolen over him, his mind and body settling into the familiar rhythm of a procedure he had performed a hundred times before in simulated scenarios. As he worked, Alric kept a steady, low-voiced monologue, as if weaving a story into the movements of the young technician’s hands.

‘There was a time when the single contact point in the skull was not considered enough for a capsuleer to have contact with even the training setups. The jacks were crude, heavy, plainly visible to anyone and had to be located at multiple points throughout the body for total nervous systems interface.’

‘First socket is in place and anchored,’ Lu Tien murmured into his microphone to Vienne at the control desk. ‘Connection is secured. Begin interface sequence.’

The third technician tapped a command into a terminal; signals pulsed through the wires slotted into the new and old jacks. Suddenly awakened nanofilaments stirred within the hardware and began travelling along preexisting neural pathways, interlinking and spreading throughout the pilot’s systems.

‘Eventually, advances in the technology were made,’ Alric continued. ‘The hardware became smaller, finer, more capable of managing the demands of capsule command. Corporate competition drove the design to further refinement until the standard became what is in use today.’

‘Second socket in place and anchored. Connection secured.’

Each implant was carefully mounted on the vertebrae of the woman’s spine, nanofilament connections binding them into her nervous system and to each other. The flesh was sealed around the implants with a protective, flexible medical foam which would deteriorate as the healing process progressed.

‘It’s the initial ordeal of receiving capsuleer implants that can make or break a pilot.’ The implants ran the length of the woman’s spine, now, and the final stages of the surgery were in process. It was mostly Vienne’s scene as she monitored progress and status, making adjustments as necessary.

Lu Tien looked at Alric. ‘How so?’

The older man gestured to the sleeping pilot. ‘When a capsuleer’s clone is grown, the implants are developed with it. There’s no invasive surgical procedures, and everything is meshed perfectly. It’s this first step, where the pilot becomes more than human, that’s the biggest and hardest. Imagine being in her place, waking up after this. Even with all the testing, all the training, nothing quite prepares you for the feeling of something alien inside you.’

Vienne gave the thumbs-up as the final test completed. ‘Green. Get her to the recovery ward. Good job, people.’

‘It’s the reason we don’t leave them alone from the moment they awaken. A small percentage can’t handle it. They lose it entirely and all that can be done for them is care homes and lots of therapy; some kill themselves within the year.’

Lu Tien stared at his mentor, shocked at the notion, then at the pilot as she was carried away. ‘I never… I never thought of that.’

The omnipresent assistants removed the technicians’ masks and gloves; Alric rubbed the end of his nose with the back of one hand. ‘Finally!

‘Look at it this way. Nearly everyone has some minor cybernetics, these days. Optical repairs, audio implants, maybe a replaced or repaired internal organ or bone. Those are minimal things. Capsuleer implants hug the nerves so tightly, a pilot can feel it at first. Sort of a tightness, maybe a burning sensation, like a vague, sourceless pressure in every limb. That’s how one described it for me, once. The feeling of it can be devastating if they’re given time to think about it.’ He glanced at Lu Tien. ‘Becoming a god is neither easy nor painless. It’s up to us to ease that transition as much as possible even as we initiate it. You did well today.’

Lu Tien looked around the operating theatre; assistants were bustling around cleaning up and shutting down various pieces of equipment. ‘Becoming… a god?’ he murmured. He thought about the pilot as she’d been when he’d met her. ‘She’s beautiful.’

Someone clapped him on the shoulder; he turned to see Vienne, looking tired but happy. ‘Wait til you see what she becomes.’

Cyberpunk Pirates

A friend from EVE Online requested a picture of two pirates done in a particular cyberpunk style; in exchange, I received a Myrmidon-class battlecruiser. This was my introduction to the gaming world’s acceptance of exchanging art for ingame assets.

cyberpunk pirates

Character studies

I’m a people-watcher; part of the joys of being a sociable introvert is that you have ample opportunity to watch and learn about others. Sometimes my attention gets drawn by a pose, or an item of clothing, or simply the attitude with which someone focusses on a particular task. I’ll never forget the workman who went past me one morning, so intent on not dropping three paper cups of coffee that his cigarette was practically falling from his lips, unnoticed. Some of the best poses I see are from nightclubs and martial-arts training sessions, where people make more use of the full range of movement.

guys girls

character study_01 jump lunge

 

Aviankin

A cartoonish character scrawled together for a Flash animation class I took at Rhode Island School of Design in 2010. The walking animation was quite fun to put together; if I can ever locate the thumb drive it’s stored on (there have been several moves since 2010) I’ll post the test reel as a gif.

Aviankin

 

Aviankin walk

Dust

(Originally posted on Sweet Little Bad Girl, after DUST514 was announced in 2009. Obviously, the released game bears little resemblance to this footslogger’s story, but very little was known about it at the time.)

 

What sort of person do you have to be, to turn your back on everything you ever knew?

The tip of her knife drags through the thin layer of dirt, blade grating harshly against the stone beneath.

When your life is ruled by the almighty ISK, what do you cling to?

The lines she draws form a map. She doesn’t notice; the map is etched more permanently in her mind than it is in the dust: we are here, they are there, and soon, we shall be there, too. And they won’t be.

She could be Intaki, Civire, Ni-Kunni, Sebiestor… with her hair shaved back to stubble, dressed in a sleeveless shirt and fatigues, distinguishing marks erased when she gave up her name for a number, it no longer matters.

The toe of her boot, scuffed and weathered, broken straps replaced slapdash with a strip of elastic splint wrapped around her ankle, rubs the map from the ground.

Her detail only arrived here this morning, but already she’s been here forever.

When she first started, every place was new to her; she had never before left her homeworld.

Staring too much lost her an arm. But that was alright, because she died later that day, victim of an enemy groundsweeper run.

After too many iterations, the field shrinks. It becomes little more than a game on paper: your location, your target, your obstacles, your support. Circles and crosses; everything else becomes circumstantial.

She stares with grey eyes across a field littered with the detritus of human civilisation, canyon walls of chrome and crystal rising away to form a deadly labyrinth, mined and riddled with traps. She sees through these, only focussed on the target three miles away.

It will be gone tomorrow, or she will be.

The pay is good; it would have to be, for all the risk they take. She used to save it, hoarding against the day when she could buy that little apartment in the city; now, she spends it on better armour, better weapons. New iterative clones of herself, her memories preserved and injected into each new body as the old one is killed.

She remembers every death.

It no longer traumatises her as it did in the beginning. Too many iterations have inured her to that flash of light, that moment of red agony as parts of herself move in directions they were never meant to, mingling on the ground with parts of her comrades before her last memory ends.

Her comrades used to be people, once. And still there are nights when she and another will take comfort in each other, reassuring themselves that they still live. But like thousands of others, she and they have become faceless ghosts, pieces of meat directed to live and die by iron-clad gods who stride the night skies, whose only concerns are their personal loss and gain, heedless of the souls who scrabble for their will in the dust.