Chu took me out to a restaurant the other night. It was very nice, and we went with friends of his who aren't pilots in any sense of the word. It was in highsec, and the only reason I was able to get there was that Chu retrieved me from Vitrauze in his own ship, then used his reputation to convince Concord he wasn't carrying anything illegal.
I am illegal.
It's funny, when you go planetside, especially in the highsec systems. When you walk among the people, as Colonel Wieler does, without a sign that you are anything other than another planetbound soul, looking up at the stars with eyes bedazzled with the romance the holos project. They treat you as they would any other total stranger, shoulder you aside, bump into you if you're in the way, curse and swear and smile and sometimes bow (hey, perks of being female: not every man has lost his sense of chivalry). It only changes if they catch a glimpse of the implants in the base of your skull, the telltale signs that you have access to higher tech than any of them could ever dream of: their eyes go wide, their breath catches, their joints lock up and they go rigid as a cadet before a drill major, eager to please and impress, with dreams of telling all their friends how they met a real pod-pilot today barely hidden behind the glazed smiles.
I have a bounty on my head which currently stands at four million, five hundred thousand ISK. I'm worth a lot, dead. My previous bounty had scaled as high as twenty-five million. It's figures like that which boggle the non-pilots, the non-capsuleers. They don't know how to deal with figures like that. And it's a good thing that those of us with prices on our heads aren't required to wear a sign of our crimes when we leave the security of our capsules.
How would an earthbound person treat me, or any other outlaw, if they knew how many people had died at our hands, our turrets and launchers blazing fire, the hot breath of the star-faring dragons which become our bodies when we brave the cold of space? I've killed millions of workers and crewmen in the last fourteen months of my career.
They warn you of this, in the academy. Perhaps it's different in the other trade schools, where you're not expected to undock and fight. But our instructors were very insistant on making us realise that what we targeted was not purely a piece of metal and wires slotted together like the world's biggest puzzle; that there were people on board, and that we should be aware of how many could potentially be dying horribly every time we laid the coup de grace upon another challenger. They make you memorise the average crew numbers for every ship you could possibly encounter, and warn you that the destruction of too many lives without just cause will stain you forever.
I give the same talks to every man and woman who signs on to crew one of my ships. I tell them, if they have a problem with this, that they should find a different captain. My command staff I stay in touch with, since they are closer to the crew than I am; with what I do, I will drag no one unwillingly down with me.
Wrapped in a crimson Intaki robe, seated at a low table and sharing plum wine and pleasant conversation with people who know me only as the companion to their friend, causes me to wonder if our reputations only travel as far as the atmosphere, or if one day, that which does me in will be not a glorious burst of golden fire, a fleeting echo of the stars among which it will happen, but a humble knife to the throat.
We dragon-tamers are so very fragile without our beasts.