Monday, 15 April 2013

Crew


"I can't believe that you're happy with this," Gunnery Chief Philip Eslingen leant back in his chair, frowning.
Sitting across from him, Engineer Yvonne Carteret mirrored his expression. "I'm not," she said. "But she's always been good to us, for an egger. Remember back when she started - she was always checking in on us, making sure our quarters were up to standard, that we were happy. Not many capsuleers do that."
"She doesn't any more. Hasn't for a while now." Eslingen's voice was flat.
"I know. It's been stressful. But the pay is still good." Carteret sounded like she wasn’t able to convince even herself.
"You can't actually want to be out here, this far from home, working for these people? The way they look at us, speak to us. And what the Cartel does. Drugs, slaves. It's everything we think is wrong."
"So you think we should abandon her? Betray her, even?"
Eslingen sighed. "I think that I can't stay out here for very long. And she's clearly... well, something's happened. She's not the same Laria that we used to fly for."
"Maybe we can persuade her to go back. To leave the Cartel and go back? One way or another, maybe we can make her do it."

Laria stared disbelievingly at the screen for a long moment after the man she knew only as "The Commander" terminated the recording, and sat down across the table from her. She tore her eyes from the fading image of her crew and looked around, her vision blurring. The Station Manager, looking uncomfortable in his own office, shifted in his seat. "We thought you would want to see it," he said, a finger tugging at his uniform collar.

Laria took a breath. "I..." she said, trailing off, lacking any reason for speaking other than it being her turn in the conversation.
"They're close to open mutiny." The Commander's voice was granite.
"They don't mean it," Laria said. "They can't mean it." More of a wail than she wanted.
"We cannot allow them to move beyond talk. You must see that." The Commander said. Laria nodded mutely. "We have plenty of qualified crew to replace them."
"But they're my crew. Eslingen has been with me since I first got my licence. Carteret from my first cruiser. I trust them." She stopped. "I trusted them." Her voice sounded hollow, even to her.
"It's your decision."
Laria looked around the room, searching for some way out. The metal of the bare room seemed unyielding, unhelpful. Cold. No space to maneuver. Nowhere to run. She sighed, and nodded. "They go back. To the Federation. With my strongest commendation on their records, and a generous payoff."
"As you wish," the Commander said. He let a few heartbeats pass. "You're making the correct decision. The loyal decision."
Laria shook her head, and stood, wobbling slightly, nausea sweeping through her. "You'll see to it?"
"We will," the Commander confirmed. "And may I say how well you're settling in, Pilot Raven. It is an honour for us to count you as an ally."
She tried to smile, but couldn't find a way to make the muscles of her face move, so settled for a curt nod and headed for the door, trotting back to her quarters as fast as she could.

After the door slid closed behind her, the Station Manager looked at the Commander curiously. "Should I arrange their transport to the Federation?"
"No," The Commander said. "To the processing facility in Jorund. They have valuable skills that we cannot afford to let go. After a few months in the accelerated program, they should be ready for reassignment." There was not a trace of emotion on his face or in his voice. "Except for that Gunnery Officer. Kill him in front of them." He paused. "But remember to take the payment from her account."

Some hours later, Laria had stopped crying, and washed her face. She called up the holo images and records of her replacement crew. An array of stern, humourless, faces looked back at her. Hard-bitten and experienced, they were the classic image of a pirate crew. Laria took a deep breath, mentally pushing the past further away from her. She was an Angel now, and it was fitting that she have an Angel crew.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Pod Entry

(( So, I was inspired by a post on Backstage to envision Laria getting into her pod. Here's the result.))


Laria always showers before entering the pod, if there's time. It's become more than a habit, verging on a ritual. Hairband looped over her left wrist, her hands gather her hair into a high ponytail, baring the port at the base of her skull. Then boots, trousers, overshirt, t-shirt. Always that order, folding neatly into the canister that will be carried with her pod. Underwear last, laid on the top of the pile like a benediction.

She turns her back on her clothes, on her quarters, and steps through the shower, eyes closed, letting the spray take away the dirt of the station, the invisible grime of being a human being. A second step, through the dryer, and then out onto the balcony that opens out onto the docking bay. She doesn't look. Her gaze fixes onto the pod, as if breaking her focus and acknowledging her surroundings would invalidate the cleansing. At the entrance to the pod, two technicians wait. When had she stopped recognising them as people? Stopped being bothered by being naked in front of them? It must have been around the time that she had fully accepted that she was a capsuleer, and that set her apart.

She reaches the entrance and turns around, pausing for a heartbeat before taking a step backwards, a step of faith in a way, letting herself fall into the seat. The technicians crouch over her, impersonally connecting pipes, offering the mask to her face. There's a moment of amusement as she opens her mouth to allow the tubing a path to enter her. There's a jolt, a shock through her body that spasms her muscles momentarily as the connections mate to the ports implanted along her spine. Her vision goes black, the feel of the cool air on her skin disappears. A small green dot pulses in the corner of her vision. Perhaps some capsuleers have other visions piped to them in this waiting period, but Laria likes the darkness, likes the feeling of disconnection. With her senses rerouted to the pod, she doesn't feel the movement as it lifts away from the balcony, doesn't feel the fluid filling the space around her, doesn't notice her body being suspended as the seat falls away. The pod's systems tell her mind that her body is breathing, fake the sensation of an occasional swallow. Laria changes the options from time to time, fiddling to find the right level. Sufficient stimulus that her reptile brain doesn't panic, not quite enough to hide the truth from her conscious mind.

There's a few seconds where she worries. Worries that something has gone wrong. Deaf, blind, mute and paralysed, she is vulnerable. But she has found that the vulnerability magnifies what comes next.

There's no warning. No gradual arrival of light into the tunnel of darkness. Sensation, stimulus, and input hit her in an ecstatic instant. The ship is alive. She is the ship. Her senses are the ships sensors, her vision that of the external cameras, of the drone cameras, a thousand feeds to process. For a moment, she lets it wash over her, feeling the ship's armaments, systems, defenses waking from slumber like a lazy morning with a familiar lover. Then she's working, narrowing down her focus to a few key views, the most important metrics and indicators. At the same time, she opens a channel to the station traffic control. Does she actually speak? She has wondered. Maybe there are never any soundwaves to carry her words. Maybe they only exist electronically, a simulcra of speech. Maybe she thinks about this too much, sometimes. "Kinakka control, this is Hurricane-class Battlecruiser "A Little Girl Lost", pilot Laria Raven, requesting permission to undock, outbound to Onnamon."