Ami and the Pod

Pilot Training: Day 1

It looks so much smaller on the inside. Amieta stood in the middle of the - What do you call it, anyway? The cockpit? - the room in the middle of the capsule, and reached out her hands. She felt as though she was a hairsbreadth from brushing the walls with her fingertips. It looked like it was nearly the size of a small house, on the outside. All shield generators, computers, armor, life support, propulsion, and on and on. What was left was a round room just a little bigger than a standard airlock. A bit like an airlock. You step in, and then out into space.

It was 'dry'. Not full of the heavy, viscous hydrostatic fluid that would fill it once a pilot was hooked up. Once she was hooked up. Not perfectly dark. Dry, and well lit, and it was still... small. Close.

Amieta felt her heart whir a little faster; felt the beginnings of an adrenaline rush. She looked up through the open oculus above her, at the ceiling of the hangar far overhead and the vast open space in-between, and took a deliberate breath. Remembered Silver's words: You are only inside the pod for a moment, and then you are out among the stars.


Pilot Training: Day 18

The pod suit really was like a second skin. Amieta tugged at the collar, making it lay just a little flatter, and examined herself in the mirror. Shifted her weight. She had been afraid it might chafe or bind, but it didn't. It was form fitting, but oddly slick and it moved smoothly with her. She turned and studied the interface ports for the piloting implants. Twisted her arm back and brushed a hand along the line of them that ran down her spine. They were shiny and new. Still unused. But not for long.

She remembered what they had told her after her accident, almost 15 years before, when she woke up and found parts of herself replaced. Eating, cleaning herself, dressing herself all seemed like nearly impossible challenges, sources of incredible frustration. One of the surgeons who had done the work had looked in on her during the second week, The human brain is really remarkable. It can adapt to just about anything - does most of our work for us, really. It'll take the input and work with it, given a little time. We mostly just hook up the wiring. Be patient.

The talk had really helped. She had resolved to get capable enough with her new arms to smack the condescending smile off the man's face. She remembered it now, though, for its content. Just new input.


Pilot Training: Day 68

The Ibis slewed drunkenly to the right, and then over-corrected to the left. A grinding collision with a Badger set it on a slow tumble out of the station. Amieta managed to get it stabilized before it hit anything else, laboriously brought it around to alignment with the nearby planet, and activated the warp drive. It was the first time she had made it all the way out of the station in dozens of attempts. Amieta felt a surge of hope as the little ship leaped into warp.

She was abruptly hanging in the the simulator harness looking at a small status screen with a blinking *SIMULATION FAILED*. The warp she had landed her virtual Ibis 300 kilometers under the surface of the planet. If I was meant to be a pilot, Ishukone wouldn't have sent me to be infantry.

She began the process of disentangling herself from the simulator. It hooked into some of the pod implants providing a reasonable 'pod lite' experience with a direct neural link. At least until you make your ship part of the landscape. Amieta unhooked the last piece of the harness with a jerk and slid to the floor. A few dozen more Ibises to crash tomorrow.


Pilot Training: Day 104

The emergency access hatch stared up at her. Part of the training, in case you need to be in-pod immediately. Simple. Drop in and get fished out again. Amieta stood on the top of the pod gantry and stared down at the murky, utterly still pool of liquid. Just the same little space inside, of course. From above, filled up, it looked bottomless. She sat carefully on the edge of the opening, letting her feet dangle down into the pod fluid. It didn't feel like water. At all. It clung , thick and greedy, to her ankles. Not so bad. Just like hopping into a tub of high-density sweetener. That made her smile, around gritted teeth.

She tried to make out the space underneath her, but the goo wasn't particularly transparent. No use screwing around.

She gave the smallest push and slipped into the pod. It was just barely brighter on the inside. She moved as little as possible until they pulled her back out.


Pilot Training: Last Day

It was an absolute kind of blackness. Not even blackness, just absence. With the simulators it had been like flipping a switch, but with the real thing, there was this. Or perhaps something had gone wrong. Maybe this is what mindlock feels like. Amieta could not feel the mask on her face, or the crowd of interface cables. Could not see the walls close all around her, or taste the hydrostatic fluid pressing against her. It was terrifying. It was almost a relief.

Sensation, all sensations, returned in a flood. She had practiced 'being the ship', but this was nothing like practice. Amieta was sure she should feel like throwing up, but she couldn't seem to locate her stomach. For a long moment what she was seeing didn't make sense, but it finally resolved itself into a capsule, her capsule, sitting sedately in the hangar bay. She tried to swing the camera drone around the hangar and it complied, in a wobbly kind of way. It had not gotten much easier, but Amieta had finished. She'd done it. She was officially a capsuleer. Now with any luck, I won't need to undock.


Without Scars

She has no scars. 
Not the scar on her forehead, or the scars on her neck where the collar left its mark. Not even some of the less visible scars: the numb spot where the neural link connected the collar to her nervous system, among others.
He hadn't known about that one until she told him. The nerves dead from the years of the control device being activated daily, more than daily, at every whim of her captors. 
Silver had noticed the changes, of course, once the scars were gone. Nolikka asserted herself. She was more analytical, more easily lost in her work. Less flinchingly afraid when a wrong answer woke the memory of punishment, more willing to take risks. More comfortable in social situations. Less apprehensive around unfamiliar people, and in unfamiliar places. Like a new person, he might have said.

Is glad he didn’t say, now. Because that's what is worrying her. 
He remembers the circumstances, the first time they met. Remembers activating the collar that left those scars and that numb spot on Nolikka's neck, and watching with the vaguely interested expression of a potential buyer, careful not to let her captors see the way his stomach tried to crawl up his throat when the all-consuming pain hit her. Remembers, too, the way she had trouble forcing herself to cross the threshold out of her prison: not even fear, just bone deep instinct instilled by that collar.
Three years of that.
She endured three years and they could not be shed as easily as the collar the techs had cut from her neck. They shaped the person she was afterward. The person he started a corporation with. The person he is ...
Even now, he shies away from that last thought.
Though not so quickly as he might once have. 
The scars she doesn't have, in this new, clone body, were some of the last bars from that prison, that had shaped her life since. 
But it worries her.
She worries that losing the scars, the bars, will mean being a different person. Not the person he knows, not the person he cares about. If it was a holo, he would announce that no change could alter his feelings. That what they have transcends all that.
It isn't a holo, though. She is a scientist, and there isn't much data yet. Certainly not enough to reach a conclusion. He knows, though. Even if the declarations are only to himself.
Some things, you just don't say. 
He is worried for a different reason. What if Dr Akell was right, all those months ago? People in such circumstances, she had cautioned, can make emotional judgments they might not otherwise make. Sometimes people assign certain roles to others, as a result of events they've shared. The ideas one has about the other person, in such a case, can be mistaken.

Dr Akell has been wrong in the past.
She has been right in the past, too.
If what is between them evaporates when Nolikka sees it in the light of more complete freedom from the past? If its foundations had been in those bars? If she realizes her feelings were just a mirage?
It will not matter, of course. Whatever fears about what might change coil in his gut, she deserves to leave the reminders behind. To live without scars. So when she asks "I hope you will make me aware of any ... that is. Any changes which might, in your opinion, be undesirable", as if he has any right to make that kind of determination, he tells her "As you wish." 

It is a lie, though, or at least, not an entire truth.
He will not find any of the changes undesirable. Whatever changes freedom wrought, it would be for the better. Better for her.

Encouraging her to keep the scars, so he can avoid the consequences, would make him as bad as the people who gave them to her. 
And whatever else happened, it would be worth it, to see her without scars. 



"Silver, I've just finished going over the latest round of requisitions, and-"

Amieta stopped abruptly, just inside the door of Silver Night's office. Something isn't right.

 Silver was sitting behind his desk, his expression bland, his tone mild, "The latest round of requisitions?"  A little too mild.

Amieta ignored his question and his inquiring expression, scanning the room with narrowed eyes: Silver at his ludicrous wooden desk, cluttered with the detritus of a working office. Bookshelves full of actual, paper books and other knickknacks, flanked by carefully tended kresh plants. The slate-colored circular table used for occasional meetings of senior staff, with it's expensive but uncomfortable chairs. A tasteful flower arrangement, carefully centered on the table.

Amieta pivoted back to Silver and grinned, "Nice flowers. A gift?"

"Yes." He hesitated, "Dr Toin sent them."

"I see." She turned back and studied the flowers, trying to remember long-ago classes, "I'm a bit rusty. I see sincerity, patience, and...?"

"The other Tsubaki flower would indicate, ah, affection." Silver shuffled around some of the papers on his desk, "Honest affection waiting patiently for reciprocation. Would be the traditional interpretation. Strictly speaking."

"Strictly speaking." It's about time, too. Amieta took a last look at the flowers, then walked over to his desk and flopped into one of the chairs across from him, "What are you going to do about it?"

"Do about it?" Silver shuffled more papers over to one side of his desk, then absently moved them back to the other side. He spent a few more seconds carefully squaring up a datapad so it aligned with the corner just so. "The florist must have made a mistake. I will send them a note. With an orange flower, rather than red flower, it would indicate professional respect and mutual professional satisfaction over the long term. I'm sure that's what Nolikka - What Dr Toin ordered. Or something similar."

Ancestors give me patience. She rolled her eyes, "A mistake from the florist?"

Silver finally looked at the flowers, "I can hardly see what other reason there could be for them to send that particular arrangement."

"Really Silver? No other reason comes to mind?" 

He frowned, "What other reason could there be?"

Amieta gave him a look, "How about: It wasn't an accident."

He adjusted the datapad almost imperceptibly and took a few moments before he spoke, "You don't think so?"

"No. I don't think so."  Amieta idly reached out and tweaked the datapad out of alignment with a flick of her finger, "So. What are you going to do about it?"

"If it's really- If this is what she intended to send..." Silver looked like a man facing an opening airlock, "Then I'm going to send her flowers."

"What kind of flowers?"

"What?" Silver was in the middle of re-aligning the datapad, "I thought perhaps an arrangement that indicated I had received her arrangement and was agreeable."

"Agreeable?" Amieta shook her head, "No, Silver, that won't do at all. It needs to be more personal than that. You have to risk putting something out there like she did."


"No, Silver."

She gave him a steady look until he finally stopped fidgeting with things on his desk. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, but not hesitant, "Akulo, to show it is something personal."

"It's a start." Amieta leaned forward in her chair, "What else? Something to show - not just that it's agreeable, but that you actually feel something back too. What about that big yellow flower?"

"Tashu?" Silver considered for a moment, "No. That would be - just agreement. And you're right. Agreement isn't enough. Heis. It's a fern. It's more... appropriate. Not just agreement; reciprocation."

She shrugged, but could hide a smile, "You're the expert. Is that all?"

"No." He studied the flowers Noli had sent him agian, "No. Tieleto. New blooms. For beginnings."