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."



((Co-authored with Ciarente))

The sharp, predatory shape of the Utopian Sprite glided noiselessly through the hangar doors and came to silent stop precisely above the single docking ring that remained illuminated among the dark and slumbering forms of TNR’s corporate ships, powered down and ghostly in the depths of the station’s ‘night’.  Far above, the rows of windows that gave the corporation directors a view of the hangar’s activity were dark, and only the faint thrum of life-support broke the quiet.

It was later than Captain Silver Night had planned to arrive.

The after-dinner conversation around Cia’s dining room table had been a long one, which neither he nor Amieta had wanted to cut short: with them both spending so much more time in the State these days, the support they could give Cia in dealing with Camille’s sudden and artificial adolescence was less it might be otherwise. Tonight it had been clear that Cia was feeling the strain.  

Silver felt a twinge of guilt at the memory: the new corporation had been taking up more of his time than he had expected – or realized. Interviews with potential staff, decisions to be made about the construction of the new offices, investments to be approved … and, if he was honest, the days out of his schedule, travelling with Dr Toin.  An investment in corporate efficiency, ensuring she took the time away from her work that, left to her own devices, it would not occur to her she needed, but still, an additional demand on his time – time that seemed these days to be in shorter supply than usual.

But staffing had been finalized, the labs were running at full capacity, and Amieta’s transfer would make the transport side of the operation run more efficiently.  He could spend more time back in Gulfonodi now. And I will.

This evening, after they’d finally left, there had still been the trip back to Korama which, even in the sleek Sprite, was hardly instantaneous. Silver had planned to check in with Dr Toin once he got back, but it was too late for that – by this hour she would be long asleep. A query through the pod-interface confirmed her office was locked, the equipment powered down.

He checked the virtual workspace they shared – shared in name, at least, for although Nolikka referred to their ‘collaboration’ Silver was aware his contributions to her work were small and infrequent.  The logs showed she had left over an hour earlier.

On impulse, he opened the connection. He could at least bring himself up to date on her progress, and discuss it with her tomorrow, before he headed back to Gulfonodi for Camille’s promised lesson in the sim.

What the virtual space looked like to Nolikka, Silver was not entirely sure.  To him, it was a cavernous space, fragments of discarded formulas and tangential ideas in a tangled jumble around the edges, the elegant equations of Nolikka’s latest theories hanging in the center.

The debris around the edges contained incomplete sketches at the project at hand, and more, the interface picking up Nolikka’s stray thoughts and memories in the mathematical argot that came as naturally to her as tunes to a musician. After their trip to Debreth, the repeating patterns of bird-calls had been woven through shield harmonics and capacitor limitations.  When they had first returned from the ocean planet, the rippling equations that described fluid mechanics and the low, haunting calls of the sea-dwelling mammals they had seen had threaded themselves around the edges of the workspace, as if the whole space were under water.

Sometimes the central theorems looked to Silver a little like a tree, extending branch by branch as Nolikka added here and pruned there.  Sometimes they seemed more like one of the puzzle globes Camille was so fond of, a gently spinning sphere of interlocking formulae, colors shifting with each rotation, or a delicately arching bridge from nothing to nowhere.  What the colors meant to Nolikka, or the scents that sometimes came with them, the intermittent chimes or low tones, Silver did not pretend to know.  To him, they added beauty, if not comprehension.

Today it was a tree he saw, lopsided with one long branch of equations followed out to their limit. Silver traced the line of them, following Nolikka’s speculations, seeing the faded translucent places where pure hypothesis linked more concrete work.  He could see the possibilities she had discarded, too, in the detritus swept aside to the edges of the workspace, twigs she had broken off and tossed aside.  In amongst them, he could see traces of Nolikka’s recollections of the sea still lingering, but they seemed … different.  The colors were darker, or colder, perhaps. He thought he glimpsed places where the mathematics of fluid movement shifted to echo other, older formula: the greedy equations of dead stars, of black holes.  The sour smell of stagnant water drifted towards him on a waft of cold, stale air.

Something just under the threshold of full perception tugged at his attention, and he moved closer to the piled mathematical odds and ends. The air had definitely become colder, and he could hear it now, just barely: a wordless song. It had shadows of those same equations, and it was low, melancholy – no. Melancholy was not a strong enough word for the sound weaving along the edge of his perceptions.  And yet it seemed strangely familiar, as if he had heard something like it before …

It was not the song that was familiar, Silver realised, but the shadow. It was the same shadow he had heard in Nolikka’s voice. Just a dream, she had said. A foolish dream.

A dream of Heart of the Forest weeping in a world of snow and iceFrightened, alone, Nolikka had said. 

The words were far less than adequate set next to the mathematics of infinite emptiness before him. 

He had encouraged her to consider talking about it, but she had not raised the subject since. Not that I have been here for her to raise it as often as I could have been. She had asked him to go with her to a shrine, he remembered, but then Camille’s outrage at Amieta’s change in employment, the research Cia had asked him to do, the paperwork here at TNR – there had not been time.

Just as there had not been time for Cia’s worries over Camille.

Tomorrow, he resolved. He could find a suitable shrine or temple nearby, and …

No. Tomorrow was Camille’s flying lesson.   The day after, then.  But the day after was the day he’d set aside for the courier run to restock TNR’s datacore supplies …

He would find time. Somehow. If not tomorrow, or the day after, then –


Silver felt a chill that had nothing to do with the artificially generated virtual cold.

Later, he had said to himself before, long before he met Noli.  Before he met Cia and Camille, when family meant just three peopleCircumstances had separated them, travel had been inconvenient, there had always been later for that visit …

He remembered the message he'd received more than a decade before (We regret to inform you...) telling him that he would never see half of that family, his sister, again. Then, just a few years later, standing on the station where he was born, outside the funeral of the last of his family. Realizing later had turned into too late.   

Turning and meeting a cool grey gaze with a shock of more than recognition and swearing to all his Ancestors he would never take later for granted again.

Silver studied the jumble of equations and fractional thoughts at the edge of the workspace, not really seeing them, turning the problem over in his mind. Cia needed him, Camille did.  They were family, and his responsibility to them was non-negotiable.  But Nolikka … they were corporate partners, and that was a binding commitment too.

Yet he couldn't be in two places at once.

But then, he wouldn't need to be in two places if everyone was together to begin with.

Like a family should be.

He would talk to Cia about it. She might even still be awake – Silver had a hazy recollection of Cia complaining about night feeds, an idea he shied away from contemplating in detail.  

He would call her now.

Not later.

Not later ever again. 


Conversations on the Utopian Ideal: Thirty Two

First Technician (Neuroengineering) Lieutenant Kentanen Tashotsu spun on his stool idly. “Don’t you think it’s weird?”

“I’m not paid to think,” Lab Four Lead (Neuroengineering) Padrah Erbamait said. “And neither are you.”

“That’s exactly what we’re both paid to do, Pad,” Kentanen said. “Think.”

Padrah flicked the viewer to another experimental study, this one from a private Federation research institution she remembered from the minor scandal surrounding its sudden closure and the arrest of most of its staff for ‘ethical violations’. “Not about weird,” she said. “We’re paid to think about how to give Captain Night what he wants.”

“Which is weird.”

“Void’s sake, Ken. He’s a pod pilot. You were expecting normal when you signed on?”

“Have you ever even heard of anything like this, though?”

Sighing, Padrah pushed the viewer away and turned. “Sure. There’s plenty of VR games and infotainment about the capsule. Even TCMC enhanced for a fully immersive experience.”

Kentanen shook his head. “Games. Recordings.”

“Recordings, transmissions, what’s the difference?”

“Input only, Pad. Those are all input only.”

“So is this,” she said. “Mostly. It’s not like Captain Night wants Dr Toin plugged into the ship’s systems. Not that it would be possible if he did. Just a buffered re-transmit of the signals coming into the pod and what’s basically a comm link.”

“Basically …”

“A very sophisticated comm link, yes.” Padrah shrugged. “Not much more sophisticated than a really good neocom implant with VR capability. There’s a bit of difference, yes, with the type of output, given her existing … wiring. But that’s all.”

Kentanen spun on his stool again. “We hook those receivers she’s got to translate the feedback from her assistance device up to a transmission from the pod systems, she’ll be able to feel the ship.”

“In an attenuated and limited way.”

“And we link the output that usually goes to her holoprojectors to the capsule, he’ll be able to see
her thoughts.”

“A projection of signals from her visual cortex.” Padrah stuck out a foot and stopped the stool spinning. “Which it’s our job to make happen, so let’s do it, huh?”

Kentanen leaned closer and lowered his voice. “You know, I heard Captain Night uses antimicrobe nanites every time he shakes someone’s hand.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Nothing.” Kentanen shrugged. “I just think it makes all this weird.”


“Because I never thought I’d see the day that Captain Night asked us to find a way to let someone else plug into his brain.”

"If only you’d never thought, full stop, we might actually get this done." Padrah pointed at his work station, "Those studies aren't reviewing themselves."

"Yeah, yeah. Back to it." Kentanen spun reluctantly back to his viewer, "Hey Pad..."

"Yes, Ken?"

"I heard that Dr. Toin is some kind of Sansha experiment. That's why Captain Night stole her from Ishukone."

"How would that even-" Padrah shook her head, "That doesn't make any sense Ken. If she was a Sansha experiment, why would Ishukone have had her. Unlike whatever brain-dead security grunt you heard that from, you know what's in her head. It's a little unusual but it isn't Sansha."

"What if what we're doing will be the set up for it, though, Pad?" he pressed. “You know, you’veheard the stories. Sansha turning people into Titan pilots overnight. They haveto have some way to link ordinary people into pod systems.”


“So what if this is it?Or a testfor it, a trial, maybe.” He leaned towards her again. “You knowCaptain Night used to be – ”

Padrah slapped her hand flat on her desk. “Usedto be, yeah, I know, I workedhere back when he was, unlike you, Ken. And none of us ended up with chips in our heads or wires sprouting out of our nostrils thenso I don’t see it suddenly happening now.” She pushed the key for the next article with enough energy to wring a strangled bleepfrom the viewer. “So stop listening to stupid Sansha ghost stories down at the guard post. You knowWemer only tells them to creep people out.”

“Yeah, I guess. Captain doesn’t seemlike the type to go chipping people.” He paused, then added slyly, “Especially not Dr Toin.”

“Why especially notDr Toin?” Padrah asked in spite of herself.

“Oh, come on. They spend hours together in his office, I heard from Gia down on F-Deck, she’s right down the hall from there. With the door closed. Talking about shield efficiency, I’m sure. And mathematics.” Kentanen’s tone made it clear how implausible he found the idea.

“You think …?”

“Well, he’s still human, isn’t he?”

“It’s kind of hard to imagine …” Padrah said doubtfully. “Captain Night.”

“Maybe they’re not. Maybe they do talk about algebra and he’s like those pilots you hear about, you know, the ones with the special ordersat the Pleasure Hubs. The low-secPleasure Hubs. Maybe that’sthe reason we’re based here, so the Captain can go out at night and – “

Kentanen’s expression froze at the same moment Padrah felt something touch her calf, a soft inquisitive snuffling.

That, she realised, is Colonel Teirild’s creepy little pet.

Which means Colonel Teirild …

“I take it your report for the Captain is ready,” Colonel Teirild said from directly behind Padrah. “And you’re fully prepared to begin work on the interface adjustments he requires.”

Kentanen, the bastard, looked at Padrah.

“Not, ah … as such, Colonel,” Padrah said.

“Then perhaps,” Colonel Tierild said, “ You should concentrate your attention on that?”

“Yes, sir!” Padrah and Kentanen chorused.

"Good." The security CO turned on her heel and walked away, her weird little big-eared creature trotting along after her.

Padrah bent back to her viewer.

"Hey Pad."

"Yes, Ken?"

"You hear what they say about Colonel Teirild?"


Conversations in Vourassi: Thirty One

Vuorrassi V – Moon 13 – Ishukone Corporation Factory

Security personnel were not an unusual sight in the corridors of the Ishukone Corporation station that kept measured and deliberate orbit around the thirteenth moon of the fifth planet in Vuorrassi. These men and women, however, were not in Ishukone uniforms, and that was enough to earn a few second glances from those they passed.

Second glances, and then stares, when curious glances fell on the man they so discreetly and alertly shadowed.

Security without Ishukone colours might be rare, but pod pilots on the loose in the station corridors were unheard of.

Capsuleers were … well, every one of the Ishukone citizens who paused and turned and gawked had their own opinions on what capsuleers were.

Dangerous. Crazy. Wealthy.

Ghosts. Madmen.


This capsuleer, Captain Silver Night, did not look to be any of those, except perhaps wealthy, to those close enough to see the expensive cut and dull lustre of a suit far too polite to announce its cost above a whisper. If he noticed the stares, he gave no sign of it as he walked down the station's corridors, absentmindedly following the directions his implants threw up on his field of view.

There is a certain comfort being home.

Of course, this wasn't a station he'd ever been on before, but he was back in the State, and it was an Ishukone station, and that was close enough.

He focused on business as he approached his destination. One of many labs in that section, it was bigger than some and smaller than many. The front room hummed with the harmonics of the shield tech operating further back in the complex, and with a quiet but intense concentration.

Even if he had not been expected, his reputation with the corporation was more than sufficient to ensure his access.

But he was expected, and after the usual routine pleasantries was navigating the narrower corridors leading back into the lab proper.

If his internal neocom had not provided him with the layout and directions, he would still have been able to locate the room he sought from the raised voice audible some distance down the hall.

“Then pay attention,” Dr Nolikka Toin said sharply to someone who replied in a lower voice, words indistinct but tone placating.

Dr Toin was clearly not placated. “It's Spirits-damned obvious to anyone with half a brain. Look, just go and work it out. I have work to do, I can’t hold your hand every minute of the day.”

A shaken-looking young man exited the lab hastily. Silver gave him a pleasant smile and received a slightly terrified stare in response before the scientist hurried away up the corridor.

As always, he called Dr Toin from outside the lab. As always, she assured him that he was not interrupting. Only after receiving that assurance did he open the door.

It was not a large room, even as far as rooms on stations in general, and laboratories for theoretical research in particular, tended to run. Utilitarian grey walls and floor, a terminal – not the latest tech, Silver noted – with a hard-wired connection snaking a very busy IK111 supercomputer, a stool, and little else besides the scientist standing beside the terminal, one hand resting on the keyboard.

Dr Toin turned towards Silver as he stepped inside, and they exchanged the usual professional courtesies.

Silver was dismayed to hear her explain the difficulties she was facing with her project: a new team, inexperienced colleagues. She didn’t mention the deficiencies in equipment, and nor would Silver have expected an Ishukone scientist to make such a complaint to someone who was, as he sometimes still needed to remind himself, an outsider, but those he could see for himself.

Could see, too, that the corporation had not done perhaps all it could to provide a conducive working environment. Noises from the hallway – people passing, an inquiry called from one room to another – clearly disrupted Dr Toin’s concentration.

“Have you had …” he started, and then paused. “That is, do you have everything you need, Dr Toin?”

“The corporation has been very generous with us all, Captain,” she said.

He looked at her folded arms, knuckles white, and then around at the lab again. "The discussion we had before you left stands, Dr. Toin."

“Captain,” she said softly, and then stopped. “This is where the corporation believes I belong.”

“It just seems as though, ah, your work might progress more quickly in a more..." Silver paused for a moment, trying different words in his head, "An environment that better fosters the concentration your work requires.”

“The station is - I'd forgotten how much noise there is, on a station,” she said. “How many people. I would wish there was somewhere a little quieter, though. From time to time”

Somewhere on the station. Somewhere calmer. “Have you tried the hydroponics bay? It isn't entirely quiet, but it is a different sort of noise.”

“I’ll have to find it,” she said, with what seemed like genuine interest.

“I could, perhaps, show you where it is.” The words were out before Silver realized it. Of course, it is probably much more convenient for her, if someone can act as a guide. It only makes sense. He hastened to add, “If there's a convenient time, for you.”

“That would be most kind,” Dr Toin said. “I would not want to delay you, though.”

“My time at the moment is my own, it would be no delay.” He hesitated as he turned toward the door. “Would it be simpler if you took my arm? For navigational purposes?"

"It, ah. Would, yes."

Dr Toin moved easily beside him, her hand resting lightly on his arm, as they left the lab complex.

The corridors of the station were crowded as ever, and though Silver’s security kept a small buffer of clear space around him, there was nothing they could do about the hum and hubbub of thousands of voices, of footsteps, of people.

As they made small talk about Dr Toin’s assignment to the station, about her family, her discomfort with the crowds was barely noticeable, her voice steady, if at times so soft Silver had to stoop a little to hear it. Extraordinary self-control.

They reached the hydrobay, with its rows and rows of tightly packed plants stretching towards the ceiling. As a child, those walls of green had seemed to tower up forever, and as he looked up past the gently waving leaves Silver half expected to see three small faces looking down at them from the catwalk above, Jan, Ami and Val escaping from the supervisors for a snatched half-hour in their shared secret garden.

Or hear Jan’s voice. Ancestors, man, it’s been an age …

But there was just the hiss of the sprinklers, the faint gurgle of the drip-irrigation system, the quiet whir of pumps.

He realized he had been silent for several moments, and turned to Dr Toin. “Here it, um, is.”

And then he realized it wouldn’t have mattered to her how long he’d been silent. She was smiling faintly, one hand outstretched to brush the leaves of the plant nearest her, reminding him of the way she’d reached out to trail her fingers through the holographic equations dancing around the Ideal’s lab the last time he had seen her.

She moved further down the row of plants, to the arm’s length limit of the hand that still rested on his sleeve, and Silver took a step towards her and reminded himself to stay close. “I’ve always found these places … “ He paused, finding the right word. “Calming.”

“It’s beautiful,” Dr Toin said quietly. “Almost like not being on a station at all. It must look like – like a garden?”

“Very much like a garden,” Silver agreed. He described the walls of green for her, the plants stretching far above both their heads, identified the different varieties as well as he could. Perhaps she could envision it: she had, it turned out, spent time on a planet. One with an awful lot of sky, she said with gentle amusement, and weather, a reaction much as his own had been the first time he had dropped into a gravity well.

“How did you know it would be – ” She paused. “How did you know it was here?”

“This station is similar to the one I was born on.” As Dr Toin leaned forward to inhale the scent of the plants, Silver found himself adding, “My creche-mates and I used to sneak off to the hydro-bay. My brother became a hydro-engineer. He was a supervisor, had his own bay."

“What does he do now?” she asked.

“There was an accident,” Silver said. “He’s no longer with us.”

Dr Toin was still for a few seconds. “I’m very sorry,” she said. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“It was a long time ago,” Silver said.

“Does it get … easier?” she asked quietly. 

“Yes. Easier.” The sprinklers hissed softly and Silver felt he should be honest. “It doesn’t ever go away, though.”

“There are people … “ Her voice trailed away to silence for a moment. “People you think … nothing can divide you. And then ... when something does. You keep running up against the nonsense of dividing by zero having actually happened. Like walking into a wall that wasn't there yesterday.”

“It does … it takes time. Fitting something like that in.” Silver said. “It does happen, though, Dr Toin.” He cleared his throat. “What does, ah. What does your sister do?”

Applied electronics, was the answer, a lab manager in the same system. With a young son, Dr Toin’s nephew, just a little older than Jan and Madlen. She was telling Silver about him when her comm chimed: a call from the lab. She was needed back there.

“Do you – “ Silver said. “That is, shall I walk back with you?”

“Thank you,” she said. “I can usually remember the way, once I've been somewhere. But it's not the same in reverse, you know? Finding one's way back is harder than it seems.”

“Yes,” Silver said. “I've experienced that myself.”

As they left the hydrobay, Silver again choosing a route that kept them, as far as possible, out of the more crowded areas of the station, Dr Toin’s smile vanished. Still, her careful self-control seemed to take less effort than it had. If the corporation cannot provide the environment most conducive to concentration at this time, at least there will be an alternative for her.

They reached the lab complex and he stopped.

Dr Toin stopped with him. “Thank you, Captain,” she said. “I’m glad your business allowed you time to visit.”

“As am I,” Silver said. “I hope your research goes well, and I look forward to seeing the results.”

Her hand dropped from his arm. “I will make sure to keep you informed.”

“I appreciate that,” he said. “I look forward to hearing from you.”

She hesitated a moment longer, and then, with a quiet “Travel safely, Captain Night,” turned and was gone.

As he made his way back to the hangars, Silver wondered if an alternative would be enough to allow Dr Toin to complete her work. Perhaps the corporation could be encouraged to move a little faster.

There was more than one Ishukone agent always ready to take a call from Captain Silver Night. Indeed, one at this very station. Silver made the connection with a thought.

“Mr Iwahari. I hope I find you well? I have a research matter to raise with you …”


[OOC] Silver's Second Annual Fiction Contest (Billions in Prizes!)

Today I'm kicking off my Second Annual Fiction Contest!

Check it out Here.

Prizes include 4 faction battleships!