Conversations on the Utopian Ideal: Twenty Seven

Commander Amieta Invelen strode into the Captain's quarters without knocking - not a privilege enjoyed by anyone else on the crew. Strictly speaking, not one the XO should have either. Just one of the ways we've been sloppy, Amieta thought. And the Cluster hasn't fallen on our heads, has it?

Silver was at a work bench - real wood, of course - very carefully teasing apart the pages of a book that had clearly seen better days. Better centuries, even.

Probably another accounting ledger or a manual on second dynasty sewage treatment. Just so long as it's old. Amieta rolled her eyes and cleared her throat, and Silver looked up from the book with a barely perceptible start, and then a barely perceptible smile. "Ami."

Amieta closed the door behind her. One more habit we should never have gotten in to. Still, the carelessness they'd both slipped into worked in her favor now. "Silver, we should talk."

His gaze sharpened. "Is something - "

"No," she said quickly. "Nothing's wrong. It's - I'll make us some tea, okay?"

By the time the tea was ready, Silver had carefully stored away the guide to animal husbandry or whatever it was. Amieta poured for them both as he took a seat across the low table from her.

He took his tea, "We don't do this often enough, anymore."

"You're probably right." Ami shrugged, "A lot's changed. That's what I wanted to talk with you about."

Silver sipped his tea and waited. Politely. As usual. Used to infuriate me. Still does, sometimes. It's better, for this though. Better to be able to say what I need to say.

"Cia's ... she's not doing so well, right now. And how things are, between us ... she needs to be able to tell Dr Akell about what's happened. All of what's happened."

Silver frowned slightly, and Amieta hurried on before he could speak, "I know, I know what you're thinking. I think the security issue is pretty much gone, now. I don't think keeping things secret makes any of us any safer. It was you and me for a long time, and I know you just wanted to make sure I was safe. Make sure they couldn't use me against you. But there have been rumors, among the crew, for a long time. Anyone who wants to buy a few drinks for any of the crew on leave can find out that we've been a bit closer than employee and employer."

Silver set his cup down. "Ami ..."

Amieta interrupted him, "As for Cia, well. She's high profile all by herself, now. Not the wet behind the ears pilot she was when you first met her. If anything, more people knowing what's between you and her might make her safer. Knowing it's not just that you're good friends and that they'd be in for a pain shit-storm if they touched her. It might even keep you safer too. I mean, she's a director now." Amieta snorted, "She's probably scarier than you, to some people. Anyway, we can start slow. Just let Hiri - Dr Akell - know, to begin with. We're fucked anyway, if we can't trust her."

Silver finally managed to get a few words in, "If you're sure. Ami, you know it was always about safety. You, Cia, Camille ... It's-"

"-dangerous being close to a podder." Amieta finished for him, The more some things change, the more they stay the same, "I know. But Cia's a target whether you are in the picture or not. So is Camille, because she's Cia's sister. Also whether you're in the picture or not. And Silver, with the twins coming ... a lot of things are about to change."

He nodded, with the faintest trace of a smile. "Unexpectedly. Not unwelcome, of course. But ..."

"I know. How do you think I feel?" Amieta asked. "I feel responsible, you know. You two would still be polite acquaintances if not for the decisions I made. And Cia ... never asked for any of the complications, and she's kept our secrets whatever the cost. And Silver, you know what it cost."

"I know," Silver said quietly. "I was there, Ami."

"It's still costing her. What she can't talk about, to her doctor, hells, I'm half-convinced it's part of what's got her twisted around with Charlie." Amieta shrugged. "How can she get close to someone she's keeping a gigantic mindfuck of a secret from?" She sipped her tea, and watched him over the rim of her cup. "Unless you're thinking that's better. That she goes on keeping him at arm's length."

"That would be ... selfish." Silver said. He paused, and Amieta kept quiet, Let him work out the truth of it himself.

Their closeness was one of the things that made her such a good XO for him. Much easier to anticipate the Captain when you were that close. Easier to tell when he was going to get that you were right -That being most of the time- too. Eventually, he nodded, as she'd known he would. "You're right, Ami. I don't think we have to keep it quite so secret. Keeping everything quiet has served its purpose, but things change. Have changed."

Amieta finished her tea, "Thanks. I'll tell Dr Akell."

"And Cia?" Silver asked.

Amieta shook her head. "She needs to hear it from you, Silver. That it's your decision, not just me telling her what I want to be true. I know it's not ..." She glanced at the teapot and quirked an eyebrow. "Your cup of tea, that sort of conversation. But this really is something she needs to hear from you."

Silver nodded, "I'll just ... try to get used to the idea. It can be an adjustment. Letting go of things."

"Yeah, some things they don't make a skill pack for."


Amieta rolled her eyes, though with a smile, and left.


Job Interview

She was leaving a funeral when he saw her.

She saw him, too. A thrill of... something, when their eyes met. Something he thought he wouldn't feel again. Recognition, maybe, or the nameless sense of knowing that recognition was a pale shadow of.

She was thin. Not like a holostar, but wiry. Spare. Hard blue eyes in a face with its share of laugh-lines.

She cut through the crowd toward him, held out her hand, "I'm Amieta."

He shook her hand. His reply was automatic. Ingrained. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Captain Silver Night."

Vaguely friendly, but impersonal. His expression was a politely interested mask. He could feel the hard metal of a prosthetic under the gloves she was wearing.

I'm right, he thought. I'm wrong.

She's still holding my hand.

I'm right.

She spoke again, voice low with a faint smoker's rasp. "You want to get out of here? Maybe get a drink?"

He didn't drink. He couldn't let her leave. He released her hand and found himself saying, "I would like that, yes."

They found a place a couple of levels down, a low end place catering to dock-workers where shoddy maintenance had green streaks striping condensation-damp walls. They settled at a rickety table with their cheap synthetic whiskeys. Amieta spoke before the uncomfortable silence could gain too much momentum, "You're a podder."

Silver stopped himself from reaching back and touching the plug on the back of his neck. Even though it hadn't been a question, he answered, "Yes. A couple of years, now. For Ishukone, mostly."

She nodded, "I'm in independent security consulting. Up north."

Guristas, she meant. Silver took a drink. Realized he didn't really care if she was a Gurista. Didn't care, right then, that he didn't drink, that she was a Gurista, that this was the last place in the Cluster he'd ever chose to socialize, that he didn't have his security detail, that there was every chance they might be seen.

Nothing mattered but the woman sitting across from him.

"How did you get into that?"

She paused, threw back her drink, and told him. He knew after the first sentence he didn't want to know, knew at the same time that he had to know.

Because it was her.

Because it had always been her.

He couldn't remember later how long it took her to tell the story. Not long, compared to how long it had taken her to live through it. Long enough for a scattering of empty glasses to accumulate in front of both of them.

He tried to think of what to say. Something that wasn't polite and hollow. Something that didn't have pity, or sympathy, or any of the other things he already knew she wouldn't have much use for.

I'll kill them for you. All of them. I'm a podder, that's a promise I can keep.

"Ami - "

His chair flew out from under him and he looked up to see a handful of people in KK service crew uniforms. The one still holding Silver's chair smiled, showing yellowed teeth with a certain lack of sincerity, "You're sitting at our table. This is my chair."

Silver wobbled to his feet. Floor. Moving. Oh, whiskey, that's right. "I'm sure we can-"

Suddenly he was on the ground again, and his jaw hurt something fierce. The man had hit him. Silver scrambled to his feet, adrenaline clearing his head a bit as he tried to remember years-ago self-defense training. The KK crewmen were laughing.

"You can have my chair." Amieta stepped past him, swinging her chair in a tight arc that ended abruptly with the lead KK thug. He went down in a tangle with the wreckage, and Silver stared for a moment, then charged another of the crewmen. He thought that it seemed to be the thing to do, or perhaps the whiskey thought it seemed to be the thing to do.

Tackling him to the ground, Silver got an elbow in the stomach for his trouble. He tried to punch for the man's head, but slammed his wrist into the corner of the bar. He realized, as the man he'd tackled threw him off and into another group of patrons, that he might be a bit out of his depth. He struggled back to his feet and saw Amieta casually headbutt someone, and backhand someone else. She looks like she's having a good time, anyway.

He heard the scrape of chairs behind him, and thought perhaps he should explain it was an accident, knocking over their table. He turned just in time to get punched in the face. Again.

This time, as he sat on the floor trying to get his bearings, a strong hand hauled him up by the collar, and Amieta said in his ear, "Time to go, flyboy. Come on, out the back."

She grabbed his hand, and he tried to keep up as she fled out the back, stumbling after her while angry customers and the sound of approaching station security pursued them. He slipped and slid in something in the alley behind the dive, but she kept him from falling and dragged him around the corner before she let go so that they could both sprint as fast as possible away. They had a good head start, but the sounds of pursuit stayed close as they ducked through twists and turns in the bowels of the station.

Suddenly, he realized she was no longer in front of him, and turned in confusion. He'd lost sight of her for only a moment, and she'd disappeared. Security was close behind them, and -

The walls flew sideways, a firm grip on his arm yanking him into a maintenance corridor. He lost his balance, fell on something soft and hard as the door slid shut behind him, and blinked his vision clear to see Amieta looking up at him, finger to her lips, eyes dancing. Footsteps pounded past outside and Silver held his breath until they faded away into the distance.

"You can get up now," Amieta said.

Silver disentangled himself and propped himself against the wall. Amieta sat up and shuffled over next to him, shoulder touching his. He shook from the adrenaline. He was alone with an admitted pirate, and wanted by station security. He could see his knuckles were split, though he didn't remember getting any punches in. He could taste his own blood, over the flavor of the whiskey. His clothes were almost certainly ruined.

Amieta was laughing.

Silver realized he was too.

"You were pretty terrible back there, you know?" she said. "I thought pod-pilots were supposed to be all fearsome and dangerous."

"With a battleship, perhaps," Silver said.

She turned to look at him. "Did it hurt? Getting those things put in?"


"And now you can't ever die." There was something wistful in her lopsided smile.

"Pilots can die," Silver said. "Not easily. And those close to us ... podders are dangerous. To those close to us, most of all."

"So you call yourself 'Silver Night'," Amieta said. "Can I - " She raised one hand towards his neck, stopped.

The implants were capped, of course, but still, a direct neural connection to his brain. Not something you let strangers near.

She wasn't a stranger, not in any of the ways that mattered. Silver bent his head forward and felt her cool metal fingers trace the edges of the implant jacks, a touch as delicate as a surgeon's from hands that could rip apart a landcar. The forearm resting against his neck was as hard and unyielding as her fingers.

"Your arms," he asked. "Are they - ?"

Amieta drew back with a smile. "All the way up. Want to see?" Without waiting for an answer she shrugged out of her jacket and then yanked her shirt over her head in one economical movement. "Meets at the back here, they rebuilt the spine, can you see? It's pretty good work, I was pissed when it happened, though. Woke up in hospital with - what?"

Silver realized he was staring, couldn't stop. Amieta's body was a map of near-catastrophe, metal and scars, a hundred different ways she could have died if things had been a millimeter different, a hundred different ways she and he could never have found themselves in this maintenance corridor together tonight.

"What is it?" Amieta asked.

"I can't believe we're here. Here doing this." Silver said honestly. "That's all. I can't believe you're real."

She took him by the shoulders, "Damn right, I'm real."

Her gaze searched his. "Damn right," she said again, more softly. "And so are you. 'Silver Night'."

It was hours later when they emerged back into the light of the station. Silver straightened his coat and took a tactful step upwind of Amieta's cigarette.

They both began to speak at the same time, "Well that was-" "It was good to-"

They both stumbled to an awkward silence at the same time too. Amieta broke it first, "I should probably go. My cover here's pretty thin. If they review the video ..."

"Oh, of course."

"It was good to-." She shrugged, "It was good. I'll see you again. Sometime."

Her hand on his cheek was cool, even through the glove. The light brush of a kiss on his opposite cheek, "Bye."

He thought he was going to say 'Bye' too, as she turned and walked away. But she was leaving, and her body was a map of a hundred ways she might never make it to 'sometime' alive.

And it was her

It had always been her.

Silver opened his mouth to say goodbye, and it came out, "Come work for me."

Amieta turned back to him, "What?"

He pressed on, "Work for me. Be my XO - second in command."

"I've never..."

"I don't care. It doesn't matter. The pay's good, you have command experience, and..." He shrugged.

"And?" Amieta studied him.

"We'd be together." Silver realized he was begging, or close to it. "Not like - like this. It wouldn't be safe. But if we were careful, discreet ..."

Amieta hesitated, "I'm a criminal."

"I know that's not everything you are."

"What if I'm no good at it?"

Silver recognized a last, token protest, saw the smile pulling at the corner of her mouth, and exhaled in relief. "We'll put you in charge of chair breaking."

She hesitated, then nodded, "Okay. Okay, I'll do it."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah." She searched for another cigarette, "Guess I'm starting right away, before security wants me for questioning. We should go."

Silver smiled, "Of course. Welcome to the crew, Commander."

"Commander Invelen, I like that. Thank you, Captain Night."