I wrote this quite a while ago, while I was in an EVE Online phase. One thing I always enjoyed about EVE was that the game's lore drew as much equivalence as it could between the experience of playing the game and being an in-universe pod pilot of a spaceship. Most of the standard MMORPG clich├ęs in EVE aren't just accepted as gaming conventions, they're embraced as aspects of the world. Player-controlled ships are piloted by immortal, aloof and uncaring demigods out for the most profit possible, causing death and chaos whersoever their whims take them.

So when I wrote most of this in my head while sitting on a bus, I went metafictional along some similar lines.

Life In A Nutshell

His first vision is of home.

It's a dual image. On the one hand he looks through the eyes of the camera drones as they circle his ship against a background of nebulae. On the other his feet are on solid ground, and he turns his head to look at his surroundings.

It's an indulgence, a daydream brought on by a life spent wired into a hydrostatic capsule. Spare memory from the ship's systems run through the jacks into his brain to make the vision something more real, something he can smell and taste. He remains aware of his earthly senses, and of the kinaesthesia of floating inside a capsule, but his mind wanders as far as it likes.

And his first vision is of home.

It's a poor memory; a rust-bucket ship, old and worn even by Minmatar standards. He doesn't recall its name, and just as well, for neither does he recall his own. In his first memory of being asked his name he shrugs, silent and sullen.

And so it was, orphaned and nameless, he was shuffled from ship to ship, never getting near enough to planetside civilisation for any authority to care about him. He was a curiosity and, when old enough, a crewman on a capsuleer ship.

It was a strange life, serving on that ship. The captain cocooned in the bowels of his ship like an urban myth; their orders came from an unseen god, and their home moved at His will.

When the sabotage came it left the ship dead, and with it its god. They found the saboteur, caught him and flushed him out of the airlock, but they were left stranded in empty space all the same.

So he tried the pod. He came dangerously close to a wetgrave, almost swallowed by the flood of information, and so he removed himself from the present to hold back its icy fingers.

That's when he went home.

So it was that the nameless crewman took up a capsuleer ship half-crippled, and brought it into the nearest station, there earning the notice of a sponsor.

It's been many long lives since then, punctuated by death and rebirth, lives of fire between the stars and sums of money the planetbound societies can only dream of. Ever he is the distant god. His wrath falls where he directs and hundreds, sometimes thousands, die at his whim.

It's not home he thinks of, these days. The vision is one he has painted and re-painted, and added to all through the years. When he traces a command-line to its termination, it's not a disembodied thing of code and knowledge, it's him walking down a broad sidewalk in the winter rain. The internal workings of his ship aren't a cascade of numbers and sequences, but the image of a planet reaching its first tentative fingers to the stars, it's of a planet equal parts ancient and modern, not yet with the knowledge of its destiny in the cosmos. There is life here, and bustle, and hope and despair.

The planet is home, somehow, and home more completely than the Minmatar ship that holds his first memory. It's a home of cradle, home of womb.

It's his. In those long, silent hours in the pod, it's his. When he needs to get away, he sets the ship to autopilot and the camera drones to some scenic view of a supernova or gas cloud, and tells the crew to keep watch. Then, still within his chrysalis, he pushes his chair back, leaves the terminal, maybe heads down the stairs for a hot drink in a nice, normal home.

Sometimes he wonders from where the image comes of a life so ordinary, the details of a story he has never been told. It's even a persistent world, ever updating, events ever having consequences and grand stories playing out.

He's aware of what's happening in both worlds, but at times he begins to wonder to which he should be paying the most attention. And in his head he calls it an ancient idea, a meditation of the boundary between dream and reality, but he wonders all the same: which, in the end, can be called real? And what kind of expert is he that he could tell?