backwards to forwards
(i guess i should make the combatants world actually make a bit of sense???)
He feels the curl of pressure wrapping around his heart, like a giant fist is squeezing it. Absently, Raving scratches his chest, as though the pressure’s just an itch he can relieve.
“You sure about this?” Frederick asks for the thousandth time. He leans against the first Gate — the Central Gate — casually, like it’s a wall in his interviewing studio instead of the pinnacle of space traveling technology. “Last chance to back out.”
Raving pulls on his most shit-eating grin, the kind he wears whenever they put Eyes on him. “Of course,” he tells Frederick, oozing self-assurance that skirts this side of arrogance. The pressure on Raving’s heart doesn’t let up, but his grin doesn’t waver either. He’s had practice.
“Okay, then,” Frederick says, lips pursing. “If you’re sure.“
"I am,” says Raving again, a little annoyed this time. He knows what Frederick really wants to say; he’s already heard everyone’s doubts a thousand times over. Raving, it’s madness. Raving, it’s suicide. Raving, let someone who’s still desperate to make a name for themselves do this, it doesn’t have to be you.
They say it because he’s the greatest W Captain in Pandoran history, and doing this, for some reason, spells the end of W Captain Raving Akil. Raving sort of understands why his decision is considered anathema to his entire career.
Yet at the same time—the elite W Command that exists parallel to the Empire’s military was established to conduct deeper explorations into systems beyond the Empire’s borders. W Command units are versatile survivalists. W Command’s research arm in Central is at the forefront of development, its technology passed laterally to the military before trickling down to the public.
Why shouldn’t that exploration and research focus look backwards, as well as forward?
Pandorans push, push, and push. Ever since their ancestors left their home to establish a new Empire in a new Central system, they’ve continued to expand. Outwards, forever advancing new borders — but never looking back over their shoulder to see what they’ve left behind.
Raving wants to be — will be — the first pilot of the Pilgrimage.
The Gates that stretch through Dead Space and towards the first galaxy have been at least a century in the making. Periodically, the Empire is reminded of the Gates’ existence when a preprogrammed caravan of unmanned ships and construction drones successfully establish a preliminary Gate. The hype as a new Gate is connected to the rest of the road lasts for scant months, to be quickly overshadowed by some flashier, fresher news — Dead Space is dead, after all, containing no life-like planets or asteroids or systems capable of supporting life beyond the artificial atmospheres of the Gates themselves.
But Raving has read all the history of the Gates. Raving knows when the first one went up, knows how the second Gate failed, throwing the whole project into turmoil until it was discovered that the first Gate could connect directly to the third. He’s read the notes of researchers who used this knowledge to recalibrate the Pilgrimage road; they expanded the distance between each Gate and reduced their overall number.
Sometimes, Raving thinks he always knew he’d be the first to travel the entire route. He’ll be the first to fly beyond the half-point Waystation, the first to arrive in the origin galaxy, dubbed Elpis, since the last of the ancient Pandorans left it. The weight on his chest doesn’t seem quite so heavy when he thinks about this.
For the public broadcast, Frederick has provided Raving with a script describing the mission. He positions Raving before the Central Gate. It’s large enough for a standard Winger to fly though, has the height of three men on each others’ shoulders, but Raving will travel the Gates by foot until he reaches the Waystation. At the Waystation, both he and the long-distance Winger Elpis will go through a final check administered by Waystation’s skeleton crew; then Raving will board the Elpis, and pilot his way through the last three Gates.
Frederick sets the Eyes. He initiates a countdown. Raving waits until it hits zero.
“Hello,” Raving says when it does. “My name is Raving Akil.”
Raving says nothing of the nothing of the phantom grip that constricts his heart, that squeezes away everything but his determination to fly the Pilgrimage. He says nothing about the way his vision, which always seems so grey and flat, sharpens when he looks at diagrams and maps of the Pilgrimage route. Instead, Raving talks about contrast, about context, about going back because they can and therefore should (but Raving needs to, Raving is sure that the hand around his heart will kill him if he doesn’t.)
As he speaks, Raving hears the gentle rumble of the Gate behind him as it flares to life. On the Eyes, it must look spectacular — Raving, dressed in the deep purple of W Command, illuminated by the bright red lights the Gate.
He turns to look at the Gate. It’s like looking into a large mirror framed in red. Raving doesn’t know why they wanted to do this live, and hadn’t cared enough to argue the point; he still doesn’t care. He only feels the pressure in his chest, pressing against his ribcage as he approaches his own reflection.
He reaches out to touch his own fingers, and suddenly he feels like he’s weightless. His expression in the mirror of the Gate shifts, too complicated for Raving to understand even though it’s his own face staring back at him like—like he can finally breathe.
Raving steps through the Central Gate.
Come home, he imagines himself hearing as lights blaze by him, and it sounds almost triumphant.