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."

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