Many thanks to Bataav for his valuable input and written contributions to the Holoreel RP.
An ebook of all seven parts of this ficlet can be found here.

Dodixie IX – Moon 20 – Federation Navy Assembly Plant

The next morning’s alarm was a rude awakening. Bataav slowly rubbed his eyes. The night before had ended as another late one but he smiled widely as he remembered it, turning to lay on his side and stroking his fingers down Sakaane’s back as she sat up and smiled at him.

“Hmmm. I might be looking forward to today but I wish it didn’t have to start so early,” he said.

Sakaane padded her way to the small bathroom and looked back over her shoulder. “Not a morning person, then?”

“No. I like bed too much.” He raised an eyebrow suggestively.

She ducked into the bathroom so he wouldn’t hear her giggle. It was refreshing to see this side of her otherwise quiet and somewhat mysterious friend, even if he only let his guard down like this in private.

Soon enough, washed and dressed, they navigated a myriad of station corridors to the conference center, spotting others along the way clearly attending the same event.

They followed throngs of people filtering toward the convention center, wondering as they walked if any of these capsuleers might be people they’d previously flown with…or previously fired upon. A few times Bataav nudged Sakaane to point out those whose corporation logos were emblazoned across the front or back of their shirts or jackets. Most of them were, to them, pirates: Rote Kapelle, Beyond Divinity, Wildly Inappropriate…

“Goons,” Sakaane said, nodding toward a large group of men sporting the well-known bee logo. The men chatted amongst themselves and seemed unassuming enough—just regular people.

All around them it was much the same: the crowd was a dazzling array of ethnicities in various kinds of dress, rippling with color from fantastic robes to regular blue jeans. Facial tattoos stretched and squashed with smiles of greeting and laughter. Capsuleers of all size and shape shook hands, hugged, clapped backs, bowed, or otherwise introduced themselves to each other in whichever way was appropriate for their culture. Sakaane chuckled as she spied a Brutor with arms nearly as thick as her waist bellow hello at and subsequently engulf a petite Achur woman in embrace.

Everyone was in good spirits and the atmosphere was contagious. Here, at least temporarily, blue or red had no meaning. Gallente, Minmatar, Amarr, and Caldari alike stood together and spoke as friends.

“Isn’t this wonderful?” Sakaane breathed as they watched. “Why can’t people act like this all the time? Can you imagine what Intaki would be like…?”

“You and I would be out of jobs,” Bataav said seriously. “Though I wouldn’t necessarily mind that kind of unemployment!”

Sakaane agreed and looked over the crowd again. Silence fell between her and Bataav, but as always it was comfortable. Everything with him is comfortable, she thought, reflecting on their night together. Since their first communications nearly a year prior via the Free Intaki comm channel, and over the ensuing months after she’d signed on with ILF and they’d grown closer, she’d known only his voice in her ear. Now she knew much more than that and was glad he’d presented the opportunity.

Perhaps that was an advantage to first associating with people via the confines of the capsule: one got to know the person’s mind and personality without worry of interference from superficial impressions of physical appearance. Although she’d had his channel avatar to go by, after all this time it would have mattered very little what he looked like. She knew who he was and that warmed her heart more than anything else.

Well. Mostly. She ducked her head to hide a grin. Tall, with a great physique, dark hair and piercing blue eyes, Bataav was actually very handsome, and she would not complain about that!

Time passed; they waited along with everyone else.

“There are more pilots than I expected,” Sakaane said finally. “We should have gotten up earlier.” Bataav looked dismayed at that idea and Sakaane smiled at him, knowing full well what he was thinking about and not minding one bit. As they inched slowly toward the registration desk, she added, “It’ll be well past lunch before we’re through the line.”

Bataav glanced up at a large port affording a view of the moon and the traffic outside the station. A Hurricane swept by, pursued shortly thereafter by a Dominix. “Several thousand capsuleers all crushed into one small location,” he mused. “If the Sansha chose now…”

“Hush.” She placed a finger over his lips. “None of that. We’re here to have fun, remember?”

The Karna Pasha grinned. “Sorry. Habit.” He glanced ahead. “Maybe we should get a bite to eat while we wait for this crowd to die down.”

They turned back the way they’d come only to find many more people had the same idea: the crowds were thick elsewhere in the station as well. It took the couple some effort to find somewhere they could squeeze in for a meal without going too far afield. Even Deck 17 was full and they had to wait for a table.

Some hours later they returned to the venue and found the line for registration nearly gone. Finally, a pleasant Intaki woman with spiked white hair handed them their badges along with two cloth bags bearing a bright blue Quafe logo.

“See?” Bataav said as they stepped aside and rummaged through the bags. “Free pens. I knew there would be pens.”

Sakaane held up a black t-shirt which matched the bag’s design. “It’s not all bad. Free shirts! And discount coupons for station services… Ah, here we are. The schedule.” She frowned. “It took too long to eat and get in. The opening ceremonies have already started and I suppose it will be full. Fancy a look anyway?”

“Why don’t we look around and get our bearings instead? I imagine once the ceremonies let out the corridors will be jammed.”

The venue was spread over several rooms occupying two decks of the station. As they toured the area, they wove their way through other capsuleers standing about in small groups, eventually ending up in the combat arena where a large group of pilots had congregated to discuss tactics and plan strategy. Casual combat scenarios were being staged throughout the afternoon with an actual tournament to be held the following day.

Bataav’s eyes flicked over various screens openly displaying ship configurations and a few unguarded bits of corporation information.

“See anything interesting?” Sakaane asked quietly.

“Perhaps.”

They moved on, stopping by the silent auction to peruse the wares on display.

“Goons again,” Bataav said, plucking a small rubber bee from an arrangement of bee-themed paraphernalia. “They’ve quite a selection merchandise.” The bee squeaked loudly when he squeezed it.

“I’m sure children get a kick out of that. Start young! Give a squeak toy, recruit while they’re still in diapers.” She reached to take it from him. “Actually, I might like one.”

He gave her a look.

“What? It’s cute!”

“It’s pirate gear!”

She placed the bee back with the rest of the Goon merchandise. “Bad guys get all the fun stuff.”

He chuckled and steered her away. “Aww. Maybe we can put something similar into production for you. Gain independence through ILF squeak toy proliferation.”

“That’d be nice. No, really. People like things. Could be a way to increase our profile and nab some ISK for the corp wallet in the process. T-shirts, coasters…” She paused thoughtfully. “Free pens.”

Wandering on, they came to other areas of the venue where capsuleers sat around tables playing cards and chatting idly with one another or taking in snacks offered by the catering service. Along the promenade on the second level a wide viewport gave a spectacular view of the nebula and the exterior combat arena, where several ships were engaged in battle. A Minmatar tattoo artist had a booth set up nearby with several pilots waiting to be inked. The Scope had reporters on hand for interviews and a few agents milled about, eager to find new hires. In contrast to the silent auction, the market area offered a variety of commercial goods from clothing to ship models. Bataav waited patiently while Sakaane pored through the items, eventually leaving with two bags heavy with purchases.

“Since he couldn’t make it, Devan gave me a shopping list,” she explained. “All of these things aren’t available at home.”

Bataav arched an eyebrow. “I do believe a great deal of the things in there are for you, my dear. I saw you drooling over that Navy Apocalypse model.”

Sakaane tried to slide the bag containing the ship out of sight behind her. “I really have no idea what you’re talking about. And there was no drool! …all right, maybe a little. Though I think I might buy an actual navy issue when we get back.”

He smiled. “You and your Amarr hulls.”

Their tour complete, they sat briefly at an empty table and pulled the schedule out again. Sakaane pointed at an entry. “Speaking of hulls: At 1500 a designer from Ishukone will be hosting a session where attendees can vote on the elements of a ship’s creation. It runs for a couple of hours and he’ll be designing the hull live. Interested?”

“Ah! Yes. And after? How about the panel at 1700 about the morality of capsuleers? Could provide some useful insight into the problems we have at home. Following that is an open discussion regarding empire corporations, their agents, and the jobs they hand out.” Bataav tapped this finger thoughtfully on the table. “I’d like to bring up the issue of the Intaki Assembly being excluded from employing agents, whereas every other Federation entity seemingly has free reign to do so.”

Sakaane nodded. “Right. Shall we go?”

The auditorium housing the design session was the same location as the opening ceremonies. They arrived to find the room already full, as nearly everyone had remained behind at the ceremonies’ conclusion. The room was dark; the designer was already set up on the stage at a console with its display duplicated overhead for the audience to see.

“Standing room only,” Bataav murmured, finding his way through the dark to an open spot along the rear wall. Sakaane followed behind and then placed her bags on the floor between her feet.

The hostess, a dark-haired Gallente woman in a flashy sequined jacket, sat on a stool next to the designer’s console. “Good to see you too,” she was saying to the designer. “So I understand you were going to tell everybody a little about yourself before we dive into this?”

“Nope,” the designer replied, but smiled.

“No? All right…”

The audience chuckled.

The hostess turned to the audience and grinned cheekily. “I also bribed this man. He said he would come out here if he could have alcohol.” She held up two flasks.

The designer was calling up files on his digital canvas. “Yeah, but Val said yesterday we’re not allowed to drink before five.”

“Val said that?” The hostess gave the audience a look. “I’m gonna defy Val!” She reached for one of the flasks and deliberately unscrewed the cap. The designer started to laugh and reached for the other flask. “Salut!” Taking a drink, she recapped the flask and put it down. “This is going to make it much easier.”

The designer fiddled with the flask and then set it aside, reaching instead for a larger bottle. “I brought my own. It’s water actually.”

“Oh, just water? Well, we wouldn’t want his hands to shake while he’s drawing so I can understand that. So—”

The designer held his bottle up to the audience. “But, cheers! Good to see you.”

“You’re sure you don’t want to tell them anything about you?”

“I’ll tell them something.”

“How long have you been with Ishukone?”

“Three years, yeah. My name is Georg Inkunen.” He pronounced his first name Yorrg. “Some people have trouble with that… It’s pretty much just ‘George’ without the ‘e’ on the end… But you can call me George if you don’t like Georg. And for those of you who can’t see me, I look something…like this…”

He bent over the digital canvas and scribbled out a character that was meant to approximate his close-shaven head, mustache and beard. The audience chuckled and then applauded.

“Yep, that’s me. Thank you! Before we start, I just wanted to say quickly…the process when I design a new ship. First I’ll speak with our military advisors to see about the purpose of the new ship. Then I’ll sketch out a lot of these quick thumbnails.” A selection of samples appeared on the display. “You can see they’re really rough. I don’t take them very far. I might take one a little bit further if there is an example that I really like that I want to sell to the advisors and our directors. That usually works, so when that happens I take the design and make it a little bigger, keep working it, put color on it, and that’s pretty much it.

“But we’re very agile at Ishukone, so we’ll just start over if we don’t like what we’ve done. For this instance”—he highlighted a certain thumbnail—“we chose this one. I couldn’t make the sale on the others.” He pouted good-naturedly.

“Aww,” the hostess said. “Next time.”

The thumbnail overhead gradually morphed from the rough sketch through to various stages of design. “I don’t always hit the right combination of design elements right away,” Georg said. Arriving at the final slide, he added, “This is pretty much the final of this concept. Couple more examples I can show you…” A few more images flashed up on the screen: an Eagle then a Falcon. A few in the audience clapped appreciatively.

“Sometimes I’ll just do a profile, like this, and work with our engineers to come up with the comparable structure blueprints.” A photo of himself and a young boy flashed up on the display. “I’m always at work… Me and my son went to the playground and made these pretty little sand models…”

The hostess tried to keep a straight face. “Do you use sand as a medium a lot?”

“Yeah! And grass, you can see here’s an antenna…” Another photo flashed up showing the sand ship with bits of grass sticking out. The audience laughed and started to get into it more, clapping and whistling.

“Okay! So, that’s it! Thank you!” Georg made to get up.

“No, no!” The hostess made a show of placating him. “This is what the alcohol is for!” Once she saw he wasn’t actually going anywhere, she turned back to the audience, and took on a bit more of a serious air.

“One of the other elements of Design Democracy is, as we go through this, other than drinking, you’ll see these two lovely volunteers stationed with microphones. We have questions in a sequence that we’re going to ask and you get to vote on as Georg designs the hull—and he tells me he’s very fast!—and in the time when it might be a little slow, or when we get toward the end where we’re going to name the ship, if you have questions, I will be opening the floor occasionally, so hold up your hand and they’re going to run mics around.”

She went on without barely taking a breath. “One of the conditions Georg had—because I was like, seeing as Impetus chose to hold the convention here in Gallente space, let’s do a Gallente ship!—and his answer was, ‘No.’” She made a face.

Georg poked his head up over his canvas. “What did you expect? I’m Caldari!”

A mixed chorus of applause and groans came from the audience, followed by laughter.

“Right. So we’re going to start off with accepting the fact that it will be a Caldari ship…”

Georg grinned. “I know it’s ‘Design Democracy’ but I’m doing all the work!”

“So in this case, ‘Design Dictatorship’.” The hostess shifted on her stool. “The first question we’re going to ask the crowd: battlecruiser or frigate? Who would like to see a battlecruiser? Okay? And those would like to see a frigate?” She took stock of the audience. “I think we have a clear winner, the people have spoken! Battlecruiser it is.”

Georg brought up a nebula as a backdrop. “I’m just going to try to find an interesting place to start…” On the display overhead, brushstrokes appeared as he began working on his canvas, blocking out shapes.

“One of the big questions that helps determine the start of the style of the ship is whether it will be symmetrical or not. Those in favor of symmetry in their Caldari battlecruiser, please raise your hands. Okay…no symmetry! Wow. Wacky Caldari. I think the wacky ones have it that time.”

For the next few minutes the audience watched while the bare bones of the hull started to take shape.

Designing a ship.

Designing a ship.

The hostess prompted with the next question. “Do we want wings on our battlecruiser? No wings, hold up your hands.” She paused. “Yeah…you’re so clearly in the minority even before I ask the others! But okay, for form’s sake, because it’s ‘democracy’… Those who want wings, raise your hands.”

Someone in the audience shouted, “One wing!” People started to cheer in support.

“Okay, so now we’re inspired to ask a new question. Those of you who want a single wing, raise your hands. And those who want him to draw a ridiculously fat number of wings, raise your hands. Yeah.”

Georg looked up. “Eh?”

“A ridiculous number of wings.”

“Ridic—okay! I like that. So.” He bent over the canvas again and, in a matter of moments, whipped out several sets of lines which quickly shaped themselves into wings.

A man in the audience got a hold of one of the mics and asked, “Is it combat, or EW?”

“Ooh! Let’s vote! Those in favor of electronic warfare—because that’s my favorite, I like that!” A smattering of hands popped into the air. “…and you people don’t like me. All right. Combat?” More hands went up.

Faintly from the back of the auditorium: “Mining!” Everyone laughed, and several people booed.

“Mining is right out! Back to combat. Combat, hold up your hands again. Hold up…both hands! See, now there’s a clear majority.”

“I’d like to say cheers to mining though,” Georg said, and kept working.

Another suggestion came from the crowd. “The wings should be compound!”

At once the audience erupted into cheers and applause, and in one area, more than a dozen or so hands shot into the air, each clutching a rubber bee. They waved the toys emphatically; a cacophony of squeaking spread through the auditorium.

Sakaane felt Bataav step near to her to whisper, “What was that you were saying earlier about children?” She shook her head and held her palm over her lips to contain an astonished laugh.

He stayed close. She felt his arm slide around her waist and gently tug her against him, and settled into his embrace with a contented sigh. The soft scruff of his beard tickled her ear as his lips briefly brushed against her cheek.

She was pleased with his gesture, though somewhat surprised too. Bataav was a private man by nature; this complimented his work for ILF. Although the auditorium was dark, and they were standing at the very back where no one was looking, she’d nevertheless expected he’d be unlikely to express his feelings for her in public. Now, his hand rested easily on her hip. She laced her fingers through his and gave a gentle squeeze. He squeezed back.

Someone from the audience had the mic. “I’ve got a question. Is it gonna have a top wingy bit?”

“A top…wingy…bit?” The hostess made quote marks in the air. “Is that your vocabulary? ‘Bit’?!” She leaned toward Georg. “Do you understand ‘top wingy bit’? He wants a…spoiler on the wing? Bit. The technical term.”

Georg was trying to keep a straight face. “I can’t really comment on that.”

“So are you going to exercise a veto to the spoiler…bit…?”

“Yeah, I have a few of those.”

The hostess nodded. “All right. What about propulsion?”

Georg nodded. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I never think about that.”

The audience clamored with suggestions.

“Did somebody just say propellers?” This was met with a loud chorus of laughter, which grew louder once Georg humored the suggestion.

 

Propellers in space!

Propellers in space!

Good as backup propulsion?

Good as backup propulsion?

After another few minutes watching Georg do his work (and erase the propeller), the hostess prompted again.

“A bridge area is important on a ship because, well, if you don’t have a bridge, where’re you going to go? So let’s talk about where the bridge should be.”

“On the engine!”

“The wing! On the wing!”

She held up her hands to quiet the crowd. “Okay, we’ll vote on that. Those of you who’d like the bridge to be located on an asymmetrical wing of the ship?” Hands rose up. “And those of you who think this is a terrible idea? I sense a theme here…” She turned back to Georg. “They would like to have the bridge located on a wing, preferably the asymmetrical one.”

Georg was absorbed in his work. “We’re doing the bridge now?”

“We can go back if you like. What would you like to go back to?”

“I’ll just do what I feel like.” He sketched for a bit. “Ah, propulsion. Is everything on the wings? Wings are on wings? Propulsions are on wings? The bridge is on wings? Maybe we can, uh, put the main hull on a wing also.” More laughter. He moved bits of the ship around. “Do we want to do that? It’s fine with me…”

“Let’s vote. Go back? Raise your hands.” A clear majority put their hands up.

Georg pouted. “Oh come on, give me a chance. It could work.” He messed around some more.

“How are you feeling about this right now?”

He nodded at his canvas. “I like it.” He paused. “Or…we can vote on it.”

Very asymmetrical.

Very asymmetrical.

The hostess jumped on that. “Oh! We get to vote. This…? Or go back? So, everybody for this, raise your hands.” The crowd was still. “Go back?” Everyone raised their hands.

Georg was indignant but smiling. “Oh, you suck!”

The hostess asked the crowd, “Are you certain?”

Georg mumbled, “No, you suck!” and everyone laughed.

“Design Democracy, what can you do?”

They went on to decide where the engine would go, and suddenly Georg duplicated one of the wings, much to the approval of the crowd.

A question came from the audience. “I was wondering if you can lay claim to any of the ships we’re familiar with? What ships have you personally designed?”

Georg kept working while he considered his answer. “The Harpy… I also worked on the notorious Vulture. A few others.”

Almost a cosmic spider.

Almost a cosmic spider.

Pretty soon the audience was being tasked to name the hull while Georg completed the finishing touches.

“We gotta think of a name for the ship. We’re open to suggestions… Go to the mic guys. Let’s start taking some ideas for ship names.”

A progression of names began, and not all of them serious: Duck, Mallard, Cow Bell, Albatross, Peregrine…

“Since it’s Caldari, ‘The Dodo’.” A good portion of the audience seemed to like that one.

Others were made, and it seemed the panel was going to run out of time when someone suggested Osiris.

“Ooh,” the hostess purred. “Mythology and it’s a bird! Those in favor? I’m feeling that, I like that. You like Osiris?”

Georg nodded. “I think it’s beautiful. I’m about done I think.”

The finished design displayed for the audience.

The finished design.

The finished design.

The hostess gave the audience a chance to appreciate their collaborative effort, and then said, “This completes this year’s session of Design Democracy. Ship of the people, by the people, for the people! Thank you so much for coming. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day at the convention.”

Georg stood and nodded to the audience. “Thank you!”

Reluctantly, Sakaane broke free of Bataav’s embrace and picked up her bags. “What did you think?”

Bataav shook his head. “Not the best looking ship…even for a Caldari vessel. But I suppose one can hardly expect excellence from this kind of forum. I’ve always said Caldari ships look like stepped-on building blocks. You know the ones, come in lots of colors? Gallente kids always have them. Anyway, that looks like a stepped-on Caldari ship.”

She laughed and followed him and a crush of people out of the auditorium, down the corridor, and on to the next panel.

A good portion of the crowd arrived ahead of them and once again they found themselves leaning on the wall at the back. People continued to file into the room.

Suddenly, Bataav exclaimed, “Sanya!”


Next in this series: Holoreel Convention – Part 4