The Man at the Helm

Ships Illustrated is a fictional in-lore magazine in the Star Citizen universe that my crew and I run. We’ve been featured by the team creating the game as stand-out members of the community creating content in, for, about, and around Star Citizen. This is one of my favorite pieces I’ve “contributed.”

——

He meets me on a landing pad notably missing all of the industrial banality I associate with the MISC brand. Behind him, a series of V-shaped lights throw hard beams against a wall of pure prekesian silk. I’m still walking down the ramp of my company Kore when he strides towards me, leaving the protective sanctuary of his backlighting.

I see The Man’s face for the first time, and I wish I could capture the moment: he’s lit by lights he hand-selected for their perfect Reliant-ness; the streak of solid white through his otherwise dark brown hair bounces like an errant tail on top of his head. He is part forest creature, part hypnotic fashion model, part evil genius. The Man. The genius behind MISC’s new look, new direction, and new breakthroughs.

He doesn’t allow photographs of his face, and he rarely lets journalists past his defenses. I’m someone he simply decided he likes. I’ve sat near him at thirty-odd launch events, races, and press conferences; I made him laugh at one of those. Two weeks ago he called the SI office to see if I’d like an all-day tour of the MISC design offices, and an exclusive interview.

No one says no to The Man.

This was the first and most important thing I learned about him.

**

A child of the late 2800s, he grew up with nothing on Vosca, the child of sand-miners. Unbeknownst to his parents, who would have preferred their third son join the family business, his aunt Eritha fed her nephew’s dream of becoming an artist by giving him access to her studio and its wonders. By his social education years, he’d drawn attention as an amateur applied designer with one hell of a portfolio.

Musashi Industrial hired him out of university. A senior executive literally pulled him out of a freshman class to hand him three checks: one for his student loans, one for his moving expenses, and one for whatever else he wanted. All he had to do was show up in Fujin City the next month to start work, and the money would be his to deposit. The Man walked the executive over to a terminal and told him to buy a ticket to Saisei on the spot.

When he first set foot on the MISC campus, The Man was just a boy. He was terrified, far from home, and hungry to make something of himself. In three years, he was Principal Applied Designer. In 2910, Xi’An negotiators met with human agents working for MISC. No one I’ve ever spoken with can confirm the details of what went on behind those closed doors. But The Man was working in the acquisitions and negotiations department at the time, and a Starliner ticket from Saisei to Shorvu was sold to someone under the name Brax Tonne, whose identification looked a bit, to my eyes, like The Man four decades before.

But the evidence is sketchy. The Man himself may have had nothing to do with the Xi’An deal. Ultimately, the question of whether or not he had a hand in bargaining for the technology pales in comparison to what he did with it.

**

Freelancer. Starfarer. Reliant. Razor.

The Man doesn’t name any of them. He leaves that to “people with,” he tells me during a stroll down toxic waste corridors, “putrefying imaginations. Marketing is the death of your vision, the productization of your creation. I do not name what I craft; others take it from me when they deem it done, and they name it.” He finds the necessity of making money a distasteful business. “I create art. Art does not deign to accept a price.”

But they’re his, nonetheless. And he still works for one of the most powerful, profitable starship manufacturers in the ‘Verse.

 

He checks his mobiGlas, and I see an encouraging note from his Aunt Eritha pinned to the screen. “Stay humble,” it says. The Man checks to see if I’m watching, then pulls up a communication chain and responds, in large letters: “Thank you for working overnight to get this done. I will be there as well.” Later, I find out he went and labored on the practical designs until sunrise like the rest of the designers.

The Man shuts off his mobiGlas and summons me with a single eyebrow. A passing herd of interns storms by, and one turns to give The Man a look of suspicious awe. He flips the kid off without looking over his shoulder.

“Don’t bother with the newcomers,” he tells me, chortling. It’s the only time all day I see him really laugh. “If they’re worth a shit, you’ll see ’em across the table in half a decade.”

**

He seats me in his office, across a dramatically long ebony wood desk. I can hardly see him anymore. It’s by design, just like everything else in this pristine room: every bookshelf full of Ikaika Kanoa and Aslan Berisha, every curving vase, every slender leonine statue — it all adds up to a vanishing illusion. “The Vanishing of The Man,” it says on the placard.

He’s there, but he’s not with me. He’s on some other plane. He’s in his own dimension. Just the way he likes it.

For the next three hours, he tells me about his day-to-day job. The numbers are the most telling thing I write down.

At The Man’s word, 350 designers snap to his renderings. Fifteen interns stand by at his beck and call, to fetch him caffeination or a fresh pen. He lords over the MISC company meetings, determining the agenda, the speakers, the door prizes.

Over two million operating manufacturing units — from the robotic ship assembly arms to the craftspeople hand-painting Razor racing stripes — shudder to life. Eight and a half trillion joules of energy are consumed each day across the sixteen factories, powering the production of The Man’s designs.

Eighty-six Razors will line up against rivals for lucrative prize pots this year. Hundreds of thousands of Reliants will fetch news, beloved belongings, and travelers from across the ‘Verse. Over a million Freelancers will haul and protect cargo between the known systems. Ten thousand Starfarers will carry precious hydrogen to thirsty supply lines provisioning thousands of populated worlds.

The vastness of The Man’s influence is inconceivable.

**

As I cross the landing pad to my Kore, heady with my impressions, he calls out to me. When I turn around, there’s no sign of him, but his voice rings out across the pad.

“Will you do something for me?” he calls. “Will you write that I am two meters tall?”

I laugh. I shake my head. Eventually, I put it at the end of my article.

No one says no to The Man.

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