Birth of a Pod Pilot: Amarr

Adimas knelt beside his father’s bedside, along with his four older brothers and three older sisters. Their father, the head of the noble House Merrin of the Amarr Empire, lay dying. His breath was ragged and strained. Several of the servants hovering at the periphery of the room openly wept. A few of his siblings allowed tears to come to their eyes, but Adimas couldn’t muster any. As the youngest child by far, he had never been afforded the luxury of a relationship with his father.

One by one, Adimas’s father bequeathed his affects to his children. The oldest son, Baston, was to take over as Holder of House Merrin and was given all the rights and privileges afforded that august body. The second son, Uthrin, was given his father’s numerous businesses and enterprises - a less prestigious reward but perhaps a more valuable one. His first daughter received his private collection of spaceships. The third son a manor full of servants on Amarr Prime.

And so it went, down the line, with each child receiving less and less, until it reached Adimas. “Adimas, my last son,” his father wheezed. “Let me see your face.” Adimas did as ordered and leaned in close. His father looked up at him with cloudy eyes. “I see your face is dry. Your eyes aren’t even trying to cry.” Adimas started to say something, but his father cut him off. “No, don’t. I understand. You were born late in my life, well past when my mind was concerned with such things as children. Oh, but you are still so young. I wish I had taken the time, when I was firm, to get to know you and guide you on a proper path.”

Adimas’s lip quivered a little, but he still did not allow himself a tear. “I have very little left to give, my son,” his father said. “My hope is that in death I will be able to set you on a path I was unable to do in life. I have paid your tuition in full to attend the Royal Amarr Institute. In some ways, it is greater than any gift I gave to your siblings, for your path remains open. You have the gift of choice. Use it well, Adimas.”

Adimas swallowed hard, his face red, and pulled back. “Thank you father,” he muttered. He took his respectful place kneeling at the foot of his father’s bed, but kept his eyes cast down and did not watch as, a few minutes later, his father breathed his last.

The Royal Amarr Institute campus on Avair was smaller than many of its counterparts across the Empire. It was also far, far away from his father’s holdings, the furthest away he could possibly get. His academic advisers had tried to press the benefits of attending a campus closer to home on him. Being the son of a well-regarded local Holder would make things much easier on him.

When that failed, they had tried to get him to go to a large campus. Expand your horizons, they’d said. Make connections with other young Amarrians that might serve you a lifetime, they’d told him.

He wanted none of it. He didn’t know what he wanted beyond that, but he knew he wanted to be far beyond the influence of his family’s name and free of any politicking.

The classes he took were chosen for their dull and unexciting premises with the least challenge he could find. Intro Mining Theory. Intro to Ancient Athran History. Intro to Physics. Intro to Commerce. The bare minimum number of credits he needed to actually be attending the school full time.

His first semester went exactly as planned. He attended class only half the time, spending the remainder cloistered in his room, lying on the bed and listening to music or watching holoreels. Despite that, he breezed through them, passing them all with the flying colors he expected having already been tutored in the subjects at home. It was utterly unfulfilling and left him wondering where the prior six months had gone.

He was fully prepared to repeat his stellar efforts the second semester, but something happened. As he sat in the waiting room of the auditor’s office, a young Ni-Kunni woman working the reception desk kept looking at him and smiling behind her veil. He got the impression she was not smiling at him, but rather because of him.

“Is something wrong?” he finally asked. He was unused to commoners - especially non-Amarrian commoners - staring at him so much.

“No,” she said, her voice struck with a hint of mirth. “I’m sorry if I offended you, lord.”

He raised an eyebrow. Either she was a very proper Ni-Kunni, calling him lord, or she knew something of his background. The way she continued to smile, he was sure she was not very proper. He stood and walked to the counter, leaning on it and looking the woman in her face.

“Why did you call me lord?” he asked.

She smiled, coyly he surmised now that he could see her eyes up close. “I must admit, my lord, that I pulled up your information on the computer as you were sitting there. It’s standard procedure so that I can transfer the data to your adviser when you go and speak with them.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “But that wouldn’t tell you that I’m the son of a holder. Certainly, my name wouldn’t. House Merrin isn’t known in this part of the Empire and I know it is not marked on my transcript. I specifically made sure of that.”

“Well, that’s true,” she said. “Nowhere on your transcript does it mention you are nobility. But I was able to figure it out, nonetheless.”

“How?” he asked, suddenly intrigued with this woman.

“Are you ordering me to tell you, lord?” she asked.

He stood up and crossed his arms, looking down at her. Despite being diminutive and swaddled in demure silk veils, she smiled at him with unusual confidence. “Yes,” he finally said.

She frowned a little. “Very well,” she said, almost in a sigh. “It’s your classes and your grades. They were all incredibly easy and you passed them with flying colors. You couldn’t be a dolt, since a real dolt wouldn’t have passed the classes so easily. You couldn’t have been someone looking to make something of yourself, since you would have taken classes that challenged you if you were. That means you’re well-taught, unmotivated, and here not entirely by choice.”

He was mildly impressed with her powers of deduction. “But how did that tell you I was noble?”

“Well, it’s just the way of the world. If you were a wealthy commoner’s son, you’d probably be motivated. Commoners aren’t well regarded in the Empire, after all, no matter how wealthy they are. You wouldn’t likely be so unmotivated if your father were - say - a mechanist who built up a small fortune enough to send his child to a respectable trade school. You’d see the hard work your father put in and strive to match or surpass it. So you had to be a noble’s son. Probably a younger child, one who isn’t guaranteed much when your father dies. Your father probably paid for your education, hoping that you would make your own way in the world and establish your own branch of the family that could one day work its way up to a proper station through hard work. But you are likely used to living in luxury and getting whatever you want. Maybe your father spoiled you and you think being sent here is some sort of punishment. You resent your father for sending you here and intend to put in as little work as possible so that you’ll be sent back home and be allowed to live off your family’s wealth for the rest of your life.”

Adimas laughed. “Well, you’re half right. I am the youngest son of a holder. But he has already died and I know I’ve got nothing. My father paid my tuition, but I know that if I go back, I won’t get anything at all. There won’t be any family wealth for me to leech off.”

The woman nodded. “Ah, I see. Well, I guess my powers of deduction still need a little work,” she said.

“So is that why you kept smiling at me?” he asked. “You were laughing at my petulant and spoiled nature?”

Her eyes widened a little and she leaned back in surprise. “Why, no, lord.”

He frowned. “Why then?”

“Are you ordering me to tell you?”

He paused a moment, then smirked. “No.”

She smiled a little again. “I happened to think you were handsome,” she said.

He was mildly taken aback by her response. He started to say something when the door to the adviser’s office opened up. “Adimas Merrin,” the adviser called out.

“That’s you,” the woman said. “You don’t want to keep him waiting.” She turned away back to her computer.

Adimas stared down at her, at a loss for words, then turned and walked into the adviser’s room.

“Well, Adimas, I’ve been looking at your transcript,” the adviser said, “and I see you did quite well in these intro classes. I’ve prepared a list of classes for the next semester that I think you’ll be interested in.” He turned the monitor so that Adimas could see them. “As you can see, it’s still a light load, since that is what you indicated you’d prefer on the registration. They’re another broad range of classes, with a few intro and - ”

“I don’t want to take any of those classes,” Adimas said without even really looking at them.

The adviser hesitated, then leaned back in his chair. “Very well,” he said. “What are you interested in, then?”

“I want…” He thought back to the Ni-Kunni woman’s words. “I want to challenge myself. I wasn’t sure what I wanted when I came here,” he said in truth, “and I’m still not sure what I want for myself. But I do know that I can’t just coast through another creampuff schedule. I need challenge.”

The adviser considered Adimas’s words, then nodded and turned the monitor around. “I see,” he said. “Well, maybe you should tell me what level of classes you were at prior to coming here. I could see from your grades and teachers’ notes that you were well over qualified for the classes you took the past semester.”

“I was a holder’s son,” Adimas admitted. “I’ve been taught well beyond an entry level in most courses. Especially in the sciences, arts, and histories.”

The adviser nodded again. “Mmhmm,” he said. “Well, I think you’d be fine with an increased class load then. I’ll bump you up to six courses next semester. You said you don’t know what to focus on, so I’ll give you a broad array that’ll get a lot of your general requirements out of the way. And they should hold your interest enough so that one might spark an idea of what you might want to focus on.”

The adviser turned the monitor so Adimas could see. High Energy Physics. Interstellar Politics and Relations. Ni-Kunni Art Theory. Advanced Calculus. Spaceship Command. Advanced Scriptural Law.

“How do those look? Not too far beyond or below your learning, right?”

Adimas smiled. “Those look just about perfect,” he said.

“Well, let’s work out a schedule for you, shall we?”

Fifteen minutes later, Adimas had a full schedule of classes for the coming semester. The adviser had managed to give him four days with five hours of classes, giving him a break in the middle of the week to do with as he pleased. He walked from the office feeling prouder than he had in months.

He walked up to the counter and leaned over. “I’ll have you know that I didn’t - ”

The Ni-Kunni woman was gone. In her place was an older Khanid gentleman who was looking at him in mild confusion. “Can I help you?” he asked.

“The woman who was here,” Adimas said. “Where did she go?”

“You mean Reena?” he asked. “The Ni-Kunni? She had a final to get to.”

“She’s a student?” Adimas asked, more to himself than anything. “What class?”

“I’m not sure,” the man said.

“Come on, think!” Adimas urged. “She didn’t mention anything?”

The man furrowed his brow. “Well, I think… I think she mentioned something about Professor Zalda,” he said.

“Zalda, great. Can you look up what class he’s teaching?”

“Give me a moment,” the man said. “Zalda… Zalda is teaching the Interstellar Trade Regulations course over in Torsad Hall at the moment.”

“Thanks!” Adimas said before turning and running out of the building. He reached a full sprint as he ran across the campus to Torsad Hall, which was a good five kilometers away. By the time he reached it, he didn’t have the breath to speak to Reena even if he’d seen her.

After sparing a moment to catch his breath and regain his composure, he walked into the hall and began peeking into classes through windows. At more than one, the professor noticed him and came to see what he was looking for before shooing him off for disturbing a final. Eventually, he managed to spot Reena. She was hunched over an exam, her brow furrowed over what must have been a difficult question.

Adimas found a bench and sat down. He waited and, about an hour later, Reena was one of the first to walk out of the room. He jumped up and ran over to her. “Hello,” he said.

She nearly leapt out of her skin. “Hello!” she said once she’d recovered. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to tell you that I thought about what you said. So I took a real schedule of classes next semester. Ones that will actually challenge me.”

“How did you find me?” she asked.

“The old Khanid at the booth told me,” he said. “I didn’t know you were a student here too.”

“Yes, I am.” She quirked an eyebrow at him and gave a little smile. “Did you come and wait for me just to tell me that you scheduled difficult classes?”

“Of course not,” he said, though he suddenly realized he had no idea what other reason he had. What he said next surprised both her and him. “Would you like to have dinner with me?”

She answered immediately, “Yes,” once again shocking both of them.

“My father was a mechanist who built up a small fortune, enough to send me to a respectable trade school. I saw the hard work my father put in and strive to match or surpass it,” Reena told him over dinner with a smile. “I’m working as a receptionist at the auditor’s office to earn some money to spend on myself. You know, things besides books and food.”

“Well, you already know about my father. But I wasn’t spoiled,” he told her, with just as big a smile. “If anything, I was ignored. He never gave me a thing that I wanted, only what I needed. Education, food, clothes, a home. Everything but love, really. On his death bed, he said I’d be going to the Royal Amarr Institute.”

“So, you resented your father for never favoring you while he was alive and thought this was just another way of him passing you over.”

“I suppose,” he said.

The two spent the night talking. They stayed until the restaurant closed, when the staff had to chase them out and clean away the food that had barely been eaten. Reena was a year older than him and had already completed a year and a half at the school. She was primarily focusing on trade and science classes, with the intent to follow in the footsteps of countless Ni-Kunni before her and make it as a merchant.

What Adimas found the most intriguing was that she didn’t plan to stop there. “Capsuleer,” she said with awe. “That’s what I want to be. A pod pilot.”

“Really?” Adimas wondered. “Why a pod pilot?” He had been sheltered from the world of pod pilots. They were creatures of movies and holo shows. He’d never met one and had certainly never considered it as a possible future.

“Imagine it,” she said, “the power of being a capsuleer. Having an entire ship at your whim. An industrial with hundreds of crew on board, or a freighter with thousands.”

“Or a battleship,” he said, wondering.

She nodded. “You’d have power at a thought that would make holders tremble. And the immortality, never growing weak and frail, never having to worry if something horrible might happen to you. And the freedom, the ability to go anywhere in the cluster with no one to stop you but your own ingenuity and skills. And the wealth. Enough ISK to buy and sell entire planets.”

He was smiling wider than he’d smiled his entire life. “You wouldn’t be beholden to anyone. You would be free to make your own name and leave your own legacy.”

She smiled back at him. “You’re getting the idea.”

They saw each other again the next night. And the night after that. Then they spent an entire day together. For weeks, they were inseparable, infatuated with each other. They always kept it just inside the bounds of propriety, especially in public, but alone they toed the line and came dangerously close to crossing it in those first few weeks. But for both of them, the religious doctrine of the Empire won out and they remained proper.

Eventually, the fires cooled and they began seeing each other at a more normal rate. They still spent large chunks of time together, but they weren’t everything anymore. At first, both were disappointed that they’d settled down into a normal relationship, but they eventually realized they were just giving themselves a chance to build toward something greater.

The relationship did impart some hardship into both their classes. Faced with the choices of studying or spending time with each other, spending time won out frequently enough that it caused their grades to slide. Regardless, the two were intelligent, hard workers and they passed their classes with solid grades.

In his third semester, Adimas began taking entry level pod pilot courses. He was surprised by how easy it was to get into them. The popular culture had it that only the elite few could ever become pod pilots, but here he was in classes of thousands, learning all the basics.

Most of the entry classes dealt with theory of pod piloting. One class was dedicated to discussing the theological ramifications of cloning and its effect on the soul. Much of it was spent in debate between the students. More than a few seemed to have taken the class specifically to rail against cloning and capsuleers in general.

Another class was more hands on and dealt with piloting in practice, outside of the pod. Adimas had some trouble with this, but Reena had taken it already and she was more than willing to help him. They spent hours together in the simulators, flying training missions together. By the end of the semester, Adimas had become a better pilot than Reena.

“I never could manage to get over the g-forces from fast maneuvers,” she admitted. “Luckily, as a pod pilot, I wouldn’t have to worry about that.”

The rest of the courses were simplistic. He learned the history of capsuleers, brief as it was. He studied CONCORD regulations and the attitudes of the various Empires regarding capsuleers. He learned the mathematics of combat. He even took a course designed around the psychology of pod pilots.

“I went through all the same things,” Reena told him. “Trust me, it gets better in your second semester of pod pilot training. They have to teach you all the basics before you can get into the interesting stuff.”

She was right. His fourth semester at the school included far more interesting courses. His piloting in practice courses advanced to include various ship components. No longer was he restricted to simply flying shuttles through obstacle courses. They practiced in frigates, with various modules fitted. He enjoyed the weapons training the most. He quickly picked up the concepts of firing arcs. It felt good putting to practice the things he learned his previous year.

He also took a leadership course, one designed to teach pilots how to deal with crews. He found that he was a natural at this. He supposed being the son of a holder had imparted him some beneficial qualities. Many of the concepts seemed obvious to him and - in simulations - he was generally performed the best from his class.

They also delved more deeply into the psychology of a pod pilot. They dealt with the philosophical implications of expanding your consciousness over a ship and - in a sense - becoming the ship. Much as with the cloning class before, it seemed many people signed up to this class simply to advance wild theories about it being heretical for a person to place their soul into a machine.

By the end of the fourth semester, Adimas knew everything there was to be about a pod pilot except what the actual experience was. But he was far beyond excited over it.

Similarly, his relationship with Reena had progressed. The two had moved into the same housing complex, even living on the same floor. He had met Reena’s parents on more than one occasion and she had met his family as well. Her parents were deeply religious types and objected to the idea of them living together before they married, so they made due with the separate apartments in the same building. For their part, Adimas’s family didn’t much seem to care that their youngest brother was seemingly in love with a Ni-Kunni commoner.

The night before the beginning of his fifth semester (and Reena’s seventh), the two were walking through Reena’s favorite arboretum at dusk. It was filled with plants from Hedion, the world she’d been born on. “I used to climb trees like those when I was a little girl,” she said, pointing at a grove of Hedion oak.

He’d heard the story numerous times before. “Why don’t you climb them again?” he asked.

She looked at him curiously. “What?” she giggled. “We’ll get in trouble!”

“No we won’t,” he urged. “It’s late. No one will see you. Come on, I want to see what you were like when you were little. The pictures don’t do it justice.”

She laughed again and nodded. “Ok,” she said. She ran over to the tree and grabbed a low branch. She braced herself and pulled herself up. She remained where she was, sitting on a branch about five feet off the ground.

“That’s as high as you’re going?” he asked.

“Yes!” she said. “None of these branches look thick enough to support me climbing up them,” she said. “Besides, I’m wearing a dress! I don’t want to get it messed up!”

“Well, I’d better help you,” he said. He walked over to her and took her hand. She slipped off the edge and he gently caught her and set her on her feet.

She was smiling and blushing. “I can’t believe I did that. It was so…”

Then she noticed that he was kneeling and hadn’t let go of her hand. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring. “Reena, will you marry me?”

Immediately, she said, “Yes.” It shocked neither of them.

The wedding was being planned for after the semester. Adimas’s older brother insisted on a proper Amarrian ceremony without any Ni-Kunni influences. Reena had agreed, though her father took a bit of convincing. He had married his wife in the style of wedding considered “traditional” among Ni-Kunni, though its differences from a proper Amarrian ceremony were minor. But once Baston had showed him the House Merrin cathedral and revealed he would pay for the entire thing, her father relented.

For Adimas, his fifth semester was the most exciting yet and the one he couldn’t wait to be over. They ran genetic tests on him to confirm he was compatible with the pod. All his screenings came back clean, meaning his body would not impede him from becoming a capsuleer.

That clarification came with classes built around more practical applications to the pod. The school had the latest equipment for simulating the experience of being a pod pilot. The simulations used a combination of minor implants and electrodes to replicate the experience of being a capsuleer. The implants were small and much less sophisticated than the ones Adimas would actually need to be a capsuleer, but they still gave him a similar visual and physical experience when hooked up to the simulation computers.

He had already decided that, unlike Reena, he would focus on the combat aspects of the pod. The Imperial Naval Academy offered him a transfer to take advantage of their specialized instructors and equipment, but they did not have a campus in Avair and he was unwilling to leave Reena. He made due with what the Royal Amarr Institute.

His entire course load dealt with the pod. No longer did he take any theory courses. They were all practical. He simulated flying ships, dealing with crews, firing weapons, running his ship’s modules, and dealing with all the little things related to being a pod pilot, all while being inside a (simulated) pod. He was surprised by some of the problems he hadn’t considered.

It took him a while to get used to talking through the pod interface. He kept opening his mouth and trying to talk physically, leaving his crew waiting for his response. The simulation made the back of his neck itch and he kept trying to scratch it, which resulted in unfortunate maneuvers and upset crew. The sensations caused by taking weapons fire were unlike anything he’d ever felt. After his first tanking course, he could barely move from muscle fatigue.

“You’ll get used to it,” Reena told him. “I was the same way. Everyone is. It takes a while for your body to learn how to deal with the pod interfacing. When a laser beam cuts across your side, your brain reacts like someone had just cut you with a knife, so you tense up. After a while, you’ll learn to control that.”

“I’d better,” Adimas said. “If I don’t, I’ll be a pretty terrible combat pilot!”

“You can always become a trader,” she joked, followed by giving him a peck on the cheek.

She was, as usual, exactly right. By the end of the semester, the simulations were second nature to him. He wanted more, more training. Even the simulations gave him a feeling he couldn’t describe.

When he next saw his older brother at his wedding, Adimas was standing tall and proud before him. It was so obvious, that Baston commented on it. “You finally have the dignity a True Amarrian should have,” he said. “I am proud of you and I’m sure father would be proud as well.”

“Thank you, Baston,” he said. In truth, Adimas felt even more important than Baston. Baston was stuck tending to political and economical duties over a small, unimportant planet in the back end of Tash-Murkon. Adimas was charging toward greatness.

The wedding was a spectacle befitting the son of a holder. Hundreds of the family’s servants were present, thousands of their slaves sang hymns, dignitaries from across the constellation paid their respects, and even a distant relative of Lady Tash-Murkon made an appearance.

Adimas noticed none of it, being fixated entirely on Reena. The moment she said “I do” was the happiest moment of his life, up until the moment the priest made their wedding official.

They honeymooned on Amarr for a week, not leaving their suite for the first three days. On the last night before they returned to school, they laid in bed together. Adimas brushed a strand of hair away from Reena’s face. “I’m the happiest man in the cluster,” he said. “I wish this didn’t have to end.”

She smiled. “I know, so do I. But we have to get back to the school. I’m supposed to be fitted for my pod implants tomorrow.”

“I know,” he said. “We should get some sleep.”

“I know,” she said. But she pulled closer to him and it was many hours before either of them fell asleep.

Reena was fitted with pod implants without a problem. The healing process went well and it was only a week before the hospital let her leave. She was moving around without the least bit of pain a week later. “Look at them,” she said, standing in front of a mirror and craning her neck. They ran from the nape of her neck all the way down to the middle of her back. Paired rings, a bright silver in color, surrounded by slightly puffy flesh. She ran a finger around one. “They feel so weird.”

“I’m sure you’ll get used to them,” Adimas said, wrapping his arms around her from behind. “And they look fine. I just hope mine will look that nice.”

She smiled and kissed him. “Well, it’s almost official. Tomorrow, I go in for my first actual in pod experience. After that, I’m officially a pod pilot.”

“I’m sure you’ll be great at it,” he said. “All the training you’ve gone through has prepared you for it. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“I know.” She kissed him again and they didn’t talk about it for the rest of the night.

Adimas was pulled from the middle of a training session by his instructors. That was unusual enough, they never ended a session before it was complete. But the nurse standing with the instructors set Adimas into a panic.

“Master Merrin, you had better come with me,” the nurse said.

“What’s happened to Reena?” he asked, his voice quivering.

Complete mindlock. Even with all the tests and preparation, it still inflicted a small number of potential pod pilots. The chances were miniscule. One thousandth of one percent, maybe. But with the number of people who trained to become pod pilots, it was bound to inflict someone still.

Reena lay on the bed, her eyes open and moving, but the rest of her unresponsive. She watched as Adimas sat at her bedside, listening to the doctor describing what both of them were already too aware of.

“All motor functions are gone. Unfortunately, because it’s a problem with her brain and nervous system, it’s not something that cloning can cure. No one has ever fully recovered from complete mindlock. There are a few cases of people regaining limited mobility following the onset of complete mindlock. Most advances are made in prevention and proper screening, not treatment. However, progress is being made in that area. We hope that one day soon, all sufferers of mindlock will be cured. Who knows, the data we learn from Reena may lead directly to the cure. There are several places that deal with sufferers of mindlock. I recommend you move her to one of these facilities, as they’ll have the equipment and trained staff necessary to make her life comfortable. If you need a recommendation, I can tell you about several I know. There are machines that will assist in communication. We have a basic one here, but more advanced ones, like what the facilities would have, would be capable of replicating Reena’s voice and she’d have more refined control over it. I’ll let the two of you talk now.”

The doctor hooked a small cable into one of Reena’s now superfluous pod implants and left the room. “Adimas,” a speaker said in a humming robotic tone. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?” Adimas said, letting the tears come. “How could you be sorry? I’m sorry. I’m sorry this happened to you.”

She was crying too, though she didn’t sob. The tears just trickled down her cheeks. “Adimas, if you want to have the marriage annulled, or get a divorce, I’ll understand. I’ll - ”

“No!” he shouted. “Don’t talk like that. I still love you, no matter what happens. We’ll work through this, Reena. We can still be happy. They can find a cure, someday. I know it. I’ll pray to God every day for it. You’ll be fine, I know it.”

She closed her eyes. “Thank you. I don’t know what I would have done if you’d wanted to leave me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. I’m going to give up being a pod pilot. I can’t after what happened to you.”

“Don’t you dare,” the machine said for her. “Adimas, becoming a pod pilot was a dream for both of us. Mine went wrong, but you can’t give up yours because of it. God tests us all. This is just another test for the both of us. If either of us give up because of it, what does it say about us? Becoming a pod pilot changed you from a unambitious self-pitying nobody into a confident, assure, driven man. You need this.”

“I can’t,” he said, looking down at her unmoving body.

“You have to. I’m sorry. You have to. I’m so sorry, Adimas.”

Adimas’s professors promised him as much time as he needed to deal with Reena. He had her moved to a facility in Tastela, only a single jump from Avair. He would be able to visit her every day that way. And only two days after Reena’s accident, Adimas was back in the classes.

Reena had been right. He needed to become a pod pilot. Now, more than ever. The bills from the facility would be immense, but to a pod pilot, they’d be trivial. And even more, he needed the classes to keep him from focusing on what had happened to Reena.

He threw himself into his simulations like never before. And while he had always been near the top of his class, his intensity propelled him to the top. He was one of the best. He quickly passed simulations, often on only the second or third try.

The pain of the tanking drills seemed insignificant now. The mental backflips he had to do in order to control multiple ship systems at once became trivial. He acted on pure instinct. His instructors privately agreed that Reena’s mindlock had been the best thing for Adimas, as it refocused him.

Each night, he visited Reena and told her about his day. She told him she was happy, but she always wore the same blank expression on her face. Only her eyes were responsive, and more often than not they held the hint of tears. Adimas had a difficult time looking at them.

His fifth semester passed in a blur. His sixth introduced increased difficulty in his training, but he tackled it head on. But the toll was finally becoming too much for him. He showed up to classes exhausted, was testy and aggravated with Reena, and couldn’t sleep at night. Still, he excelled as a pod pilot.

He passed his sixth semester with flying colors. At the start of the seventh, he faced the prospect of surgery. And worse, he would have to stay in the hospital for an entire week at least. He’d be away from Reena the entire time.

Still, he got his implants. The recovery took longer than he would have liked. He stayed in the hospital for an extra three days. And for two weeks afterward, he still felt pain around the implant sites.

“They look fine,” Reena told him. “I think the pain’s in your head.”

“Really? It doesn’t feel like it’s in my head,” he said, more harshly than he’d intended. “Sorry. The pain is just… It’s really bothering me. What if it never goes away?”

“It will,” she said. “An older student I knew took a month before the pain disappeared. Today, he’s fighting for one of the biggest loyalist corporations in the Empire. And quite good at it too. Maybe having a long recovery period is a good sign.”

“I hope so,” he muttered. He looked at her eyes and did see a small hint of mirth, but it was covered in restrained tears like it always was. “I need to leave and get rest,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Ok,” Reena said. “Goodbye Adimas. I love you.”

“I love you too, Reena.”

His pain had disappeared, eventually. When it was, he was taken to the testing center. They attached the pod interface to him and lowered him into the pod. The warm pod fluid engulfed his body, swallowing his conscience in the process. For a moment, he was suspended in viscous blackness, unable to see, hear, smell, or taste anything. All he felt was the cling of the pod fluid.

A moment later, all sensation fled him. For a brief second, he was divested of his body. Then like an explosion, he engulfed the entirety of the pod. He could feel everything. The simulations had been nothing like the real thing. It was a lightbulb compared to the intensity of the sun.

“Can you hear me, Adimas?” the instructor was saying.

“Yes, I can hear you,” Adimas replied. His voice boomed, powerful, out of the pod.

“Good, good,” the instructor said. “I’d like you to do as I say, alright?”

“Affirmative.” The instructor had Adimas fire thrusters and maneuver the test pod. Everything responded exactly as it should. Finally, the instructor had seen enough and Adimas was disconnected from the ship.

As he opened his eyes, everything felt different. Some people describe a longing for the pod after they come out, but Adimas felt reinvigorated to be in his own body. “Can you move?” the instructor was asking.

Adimas sat up and smiled. “Yes, I think I can.”

Adimas walked into Reena’s room. “I’m a pod pilot,” he said.

“Oh, Adimas! That’s wonderful.” She sounded happy. He looked into her eyes and she looked happy. The tears that were there looked like tears of joy.

And there, at the corner of her mouth, was a slight twitch, a glimpse of a smile.

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