Stories

Birth of a Pod Pilot: Gallente


Cierra lay on her stomach, kicking her feet in the air behind her. She watched the holovid with rapt attention. It was one of the newest sensations that was sweeping the ranks of the Federation’s pre-teens. It was Pod Heroes, the cartoon featuring three scrappy young pod pilots - a Gallente, an Intaki, and a Minmatar - teaming up to fight the evil Amarr Empire and their pirate allies.

The show wasn’t factually accurate (the oldest Pod Hero was fifteen, the “Minmatar” was a generic mix of a Brutor, Sebiestor, and Krusual, the Rabbit was an actual rabbit, and all the pod pilots actually transformed into ships), but Cierra didn’t know any of that. She sang happily along with the theme song during the transformation scenes and didn’t even breathe when the Amarr Emperor unleashed his Deadly Doomsday Laser on the heroes.

When the show was over, she ran into the kitchen and grabbed her mother’s leg. “Mommy, I’m gonna be a pod pilot when I grow up!” she squealed.

“That’s nice, honey,” her mother said, not sparing a glance away from her own holovid shows. “Mommy’s busy. Go back and watch your show.”

“Ok.”




By the time CONCORD passed legislation opening pod technology to the general public, Cierra had outgrown Pod Heroes. She was fourteen now and had friends and classes to deal with. She sat around a lunch table with twelve of her closest friends, exchanging gossip.

“Did you guys see Laren Hoff on Vice last night? Oh my goodness!”

“I got the new Midna album! It’s the best thing ever! I want to be just like her.”

“So did Femi Baneui call you yet?”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just the best thing ever! I wonder when she’s coming this way?”

“No, not yet.”

“I did! When he got out of the pool, I screamed so loud my parents came to yell at me!”

“What’s wrong with him? He’s such a loser!”

The back and forth was a bit overwhelming for Cierra. Though the girls were all her friends - all their time was spent with at least someone else from the group - she had never quite gotten into the gossip sessions. She usually kept quiet during them, only nodding or offering a simple answer whenever someone addressed her directly.

“Hey, Cierra,” Nora asked. Of all the girls, Nora was the one closest to Cierra. The two spent most of their waking hours together. “You wanna go to the Easy Times tonight?”

The Easy Times was a popular club for teens that played popular music and sold fake alcoholic drinks - though if you knew who to talk to you could get real ones. And Cierra did know. “Yeah, sure!”

“Your parents gonna be ok with it?”

She shrugged. “They won’t care.”




Cierra and Nora hitched a ride to the Easy Times that night with one of the older boys at school. Neither of them knew him, but he had a car and didn’t seem to care. The two girls huddled in the back seat, leaving the passenger seat empty.

“So, you two been to the Easy Times before?” he asked them.

“Uh, yeah, all the time,” Nora answered.

“Cool, cool. I’ve never been, really,” he said.

The two looked at each other and rolled there eyes. “Yeah, you should totally go some time,” Cierra said.

“Uh, yeah. I’m doing that now,” he said.

“Oh, right,” Nora said. The two girls giggled to each other and whispered back and forth.

Cierra noticed something dangling from the boy’s rear view mirror. “Hey, is that a Pod Heroes ornament?” she asked.

The boy’s eyes lit up as he looked back at them. “Yeah, it is!” he said with too much excitement. “Do you like it?”

“I used to,” she said. “When I was, like, eight or something.”

He didn’t seem to pick up on her demeaning inflection. “Awesome. We’ll have to talk about it later. I have the whole series on reels. Even the unaired episode and the movie! Did you ever see the movie?”

“Uh,” Cierra said, glancing over at Nora, “no. Never saw it.”

“Oh, maybe you can come over and watch it some time. It was awesome!”

Nora laughed and Cierra smirked as well. “Yeah, maybe,” she said. They had already arrived at the Easy Times, but the boy was about to drive past. “Stop here!” Cierra shouted.

The car slammed to a halt and Nora and Cierra were already jumping out. “But I have to find a place to park!” he said.

“We’ll see you inside!” Nora shouted right as she slammed the door shut. The two of them ran up to the front of the line waiting to get in.

“Hi Louis!” Cierra shouted to the bouncer, who smiled, nodded, and let her pass without a word.




That night, Cierra and Nora stumbled back to Cierra’s house at well past midnight. The two didn’t make any effort to stay quiet and bumped into things and were giggling hysterically as they clumsily lurched around.

“Hey honey,” Cierra’s father said from the kitchen, where he sat with his eyes closed and head leaning back. “Did you have fun tonight?”

“Yeah dad,” she said. “Hey, uh… Nora wansht to stay over t’night. Sthat ok?”

“That’s fine.” He cracked an eye open and looked at Nora, who was swaying back and forth. “Is she alright?”

“Yesh!” Cierra said. “She’s just… She’s a little sick. We’re goin’ ta bed.”

“Goodnight honey. Your mother’s sleeping, so try not to make too much noise.”

“Whatever! We’re goin’! Come on Nora!” She grabbed Nora’s arm and pulled her down the hallway toward her room.




The next day, Cierra and Nora woke up late and eventually went to school, two periods late. None of the teachers bothered to ask them where they’d been, why they were late, or why they looked so sick.

Toward the end of the day, the boy who’d driven them to the club came up to them. “Hey, what happened to you two last night?”

“What do you mean?” Nora asked.

“After I parked, I came looking for you, but they made me wait in line for almost an hour before I got in!” he said. “And then when I got inside, I couldn’t find you at all!”

“Oh, we went into the back,” Cierra said.

“They wouldn’t let me in there to look for you.”

“Yeah, my dad did some stuff for the owner,” Cierra said. “So we get to go into the back.”

“Sorry,” Nora said, halfheartedly.

The boy frowned and grumbled. “Well, maybe next time,” he said.

“Uh huh,” Cierra answered, already forgetting about him.




Cierra managed to coast through high school, thanks in part to the apathy of the teachers and their unwillingness to challenge any students on any issue. She managed to accumulate a lot of friends who’d hold her hair back over a toilet, but not much else.

She and Nora drifted slightly over the years. They were still friends, of sorts. But Nora’s parents pressed her to better herself. They punished her when she stepped out of line and, eventually, she stopped doing it. She still managed to have fun, sometimes even with Cierra, but it was much more restrained than before.

She never thought about college during school, but having graduated, she now went about the task of getting into college. Luckily, her parents had plenty of money and the University of Caille had a low barrier of entry. Nora ended up going to the University as well, though her grades helped her get in at a lower rate.

With the two faced with the prospect of living with new roommates, they gravitated back toward each other and got a dorm room together. In their first semester, Nora quickly came to regret this.

Cierra took college as a further opportunity to party. She ditched most of her classes, spent most of her nights drinking, and on the nights she came home did so at late hours when Nora was trying to sleep.

The end of the semester didn’t come fast enough for Nora. She was eager to get away from Cierra. But on the next-to-last day before their break Cierra came back to the room uncharacteristically early with tears in her eyes.

“I’m failing all my classes!” she said.

Nora was flabbergasted. “You never went to class, never studied, and never did any work. What did you expect?”

“It wasn’t like this in high school!” Cierra wailed.

“This isn’t high school,” Nora said with a sigh. “This isn’t the best university, but you do have to do some work to get by.”

“My academic adviser told me if I didn’t pass all my classes next semester, I’m going to get kicked out.” she said. “Nora, I need help.”

Nora sighed. “Alright, Cierra. I’ll help you. But you have to stop partying so much and stop coming in so late. Alright?”

“Ok, I’ll do whatever you tell me. I promise.”




To Nora’s great surprise, Cierra lived up to her promise. She didn’t stop partying all together, but she kept it to the weekends. She managed to get in on weeknights before midnight without fail. And she actually studied, went to class, and did work.

To Nora’s shock, she actually did well. Very well. When she got a 90% or better on all her midterms, Nora was floored. “I can’t believe you did so well!”

Cierra looked a little hurt. “Why wouldn’t I? They were all easy.”

Nora shook her head. “Cierra, I took some of these classes last semester. With the same professors. Like, in the Advanced Physics class, I got a seventy on my midterm. You got a ninety-three!”

Cierra shrugged. “Well… Maybe it was because you were helping me.”

“I never tutored you. I just made sure you studied and did your homework.” Nora shook her head. “Cierra… You never studied in high school, but you still passed. And now that you’re actually doing work in college, you’re doing great.”

“So?”

“Maybe you just needed to try. You could do… well, could do anything.”

“Anything?” Cierra asked, suddenly looking awestruck.

“Well, yeah. Anything, I guess. Right now, you’re just taking general classes. But what do you want to do, Cierra? What do you want to do with your life? Now’s the time to choose.”

Cierra responded almost immediately. “I want to be a pod pilot.”




“Well,” her adviser said, looking at her records. “You don’t really have a history of grades showing you’d be eligible to become a pod pilot. It requires a lot of training and hard work.”

“Yes, but this semester, I’ve actually been trying,” Cierra said. “I finally decided to apply myself. And I think that if I really had a challenge - like becoming a pod pilot would be - that I’d really shine.”

The adviser nodded. “Well, Cierra, that’s admirable. But you need to understand that becoming a pod pilot isn’t just - ”

“My parents are going to pay the full tuition,” she said.

The adviser paused a moment, then slowly nodded. “Well… It can’t hurt to run the tests. You’ll also have to have an interview with a capsuleer admissions officer. We can set that up now, if you like…”




The interview with the capsuleer admissions officer went well. He agreed that Cierra hadn’t been challenged. “I see it all the time,” he said. “Some of the Federation’s best capsuleers didn’t realize what they could achieve until they really challenged themselves. Did you know Admiral Noir was only a yeoman most of his service in the war? But once he became a capsuleer, he really took off. That’s when he became an admiral, you know.”

“Yeah, I learned that in school,” Cierra said.

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re in,” the officer said. “But there is just one thing…”

“What’s that?”

“Well, your genetic scan came back at 83% compatible. That’s within allowable ranges. Usually, we do the cutoff at 75%. Anyone below that is simply not allowed to take up the training because of the risks of rejection or mind lock. And even a totally clean scan is not a guarantee against mind lock.”

“So is there any problem?”

“Being at 83% does put you at increased risk of these things. You’re about twice as likely to suffer mind lock, about five times as likely to just reject the implants altogether. The former means permanent paralysis. The later means you’ve wasted all the training time. Are you willing to accept these risks?”

“I am,” Cierra said. “I want to be a pod pilot. I have ever since I was a little girl.”

The admissions officer looked down at her shirt, which was a vintage Pod Heroes tee. “You do know you don’t actually turn into a spaceship, right?”

She smiled. “Of course.”

He smiled back and extended his hand. “Welcome aboard.”




The next semester, Cierra began her training. There were hundreds of others looking forward to becoming pod pilots in her classes alone. Supposedly, there were thousands others just at the campus she was at. Most of them wouldn’t make it. There was no guarantee that Cierra would ever make it either.

Most of the classes were surprisingly standard, she found. Of the six she was taking, four could have just been regular courses at the university. They focused on mathematics and science and philosophy and biology. The math and science classes were advanced, for sure, but nothing too far out of the ordinary.

“We’re learning the same things in our High Energy Physics course,” Nora told her while watching her do homework one night. “But I can’t really understand it that much.”

“It’s not so hard,” Cierra said. “Besides, if you don’t get it, you won’t be able to become a research scientist. If you want help, I’ll be glad to tutor you.”

Nora smirked. “I just wish I could steal part of your brain for my tests.”

Cierra smiled and put a hand on Nora’s shoulder, which Nora covered with her own. “Don’t worry, you’ll get it,” Cierra said. “And trust me, the other classes I have are worse. That philosophy class is out there.”

“What’s it about?”

“What do you think? The philosophy of being a pod pilot. Of dealing with what it means to turn yourself into a spaceship and of being cloned. I think it’s all a load of baloney, but there are some students who really get into it. I swear, some people in that class seem like they’re there only to talk about their creepy fantasies.”

Nora chuckled. “What, are they getting way to into describing how the ship docks and undocks?”

“What, did you come and see today’s lecture?” Cierra asked.

Nora playfully swatted at her. “Oh, shut up.”

“And the biology class… Well, let’s just say that it’s a little weird seeing the where they put the implants and what they pull out so that they can put them in there.”

“You know, you really don’t need a spleen these days. Especially if you’re going to be in a pod all day long.”

“Then there’s the breathing class.”

Nora raised an eyebrow. “Breathing class?”

“Yeah,” Cierra said. “They teach you how to breathe and calm yourself down and basically… well, concentrate and center yourself. Sort of like meditation, I guess. It’s supposed to help you free yourself of distractions.”

“What sort of distractions. What, ‘Oh no! Look out, it’s a Raven coming off my starboard!’”

Cierra grinned. “Yeah, pretty much. That and, ‘Oh no! I’m having a missile shot up my ass. Ooh, boy, that really smarts!’”

Nora raised both eyebrows. “Well, it could be worse. They could try, you know, simulating that experience for you.”

Cierra rolled her eyes. “I think you’re a big enough pain in the ass for me to handle, Nora. Now come on, I’ve gotta finish this homework.”




Cierra had no issues with her first semester of pod pilot training. She watched others fail out; not because the material was too difficult for them, but because it wasn’t the fast track to excitement that they’d hoped. More than a few simply stopped showing up to class once they realized it’d take years to be fully trained. Cierra even felt like that a few times, but Nora was always there to keep her in line.

The second semester started well also. She and Nora moved off campus to their own apartment, which had benefits like more living space and enough room for a really big bed. Her classes also focused more on pod training, with Cierra learning the basics of spaceship piloting and putting the mathematical and scientific knowledge she’d learned the previous semester to work on pod-related matters like calculating trajectories and navigational corrections.

The biggest change was the beginning of actual piloting courses. She went to the simulator every day and flew practice missions. They were exciting and she enjoyed them, but they actually gave her problems. She failed missions more than once, while other people passed them easily.

One night, she was sitting at home, staring at a computer monitor. “Ugh,” she groaned after her ship once again failed to make the cargo run in time. “This is impossible!”

Nora peeked into the room. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“This homework. They sent us some training missions we have to complete,” Cierra peered at the screen. “I have to make a cargo run through a deadspace complex in the allotted time. But there’s an asteroid field right in the middle! When I try to go through it, I always crash and die. When I try to go around, I can’t finish in time!” She ran her hands through her hair. “It’s driving me crazy!”

Nora put her hands on Cierra’s shoulders. “Hey, don’t get so frustrated. You’ll get it, trust me.”

“That’s the problem! I’m not getting it,” she sighed. “I don’t get any worse, but I don’t get any better either. These are supposed to be simple missions too. But I’m barely getting by. It’s always like I’m moving too fast for my ship to respond. I try to slow down, but it just feels… sluggish then, and I still mess up.”

“Hey, as long as you get by, right? As long as you pass, you can move on.”

Cierra rested her head against the desk. “Maybe. But if it gets harder and I don’t improve, I won’t pass. And my instructors are worthless. They don’t care about helping me out. They want people to fail, so that there’ll be less of us next semester!”

“You’re too tense,” Nora said, squeezing Cierra’s shoulders gently. “You’re just getting frustrated because it’s not coming easy to you. The math and science was simple, because that was all simple brain power. But now you have to train your reflexes and hand-eye coordination, so it’s not so easy.”

“You’re right,” Cierra said into the desk. “Maybe I should give up. I just don’t have those skills. I’ll never be a pod pilot!”

“Don’t say that!” Nora gasped. “You will too. Believe me. You’re amazing, Cierra. You can do it. If you’re behind the curve a little, so what? The instructors don’t care about that, either. You’ll catch up eventually.”

“I guess…”

“Come on, you just need some rest. It’s getting late. Let’s go to bed.”

“Alright.”




Nora was right, of course. Eventually, Cierra did catch up. She never got better than adequate, but that was good enough for the instructors, especially coupled with the high grades she got in the other classes. They were especially impressed by her perfect grade in the Meditative Concentration class (although that was due more to attendance. Anyone who showed up more than half the time passed the class).

Her third semester started with more difficulty. They began true simulations, designed to really separate those who belonged from those who didn’t. They simulated pod implants using sophisticated electrodes and a few minor, temporary implants.

The first time they hooked her up, Cierra threw up. She was nauseous for the rest of the day, even when she went home. Nora spent most of the night holding her hair back and she was doubled over the toilet.

“This brings back memories,” Nora had joked.

“Shut up,” Cierra choked out between heaves. “You’re making me laugh and that makes it - hurp!”

It continued for the first few months of the semester. Some days were worse than others and she could barely stand after the training sessions. The instructors weren’t concerned. “You’ll either get used to it or fail the classes,” they said. The doctors gave her some medicine to control the nausea, but it didn’t help and she stopped taking it after the first week.

Once again, Nora kept her from giving up. “You can’t give in,” she said. “You’ll get over this.”

And once again, she was right. By the end of the semester, Cierra wasn’t getting sick any more. She still had some difficulty with the practical aspects of flying, but she was getting better. She was now at the average, not just barely passing by.

The ship almost seemed to be catching up to what she was trying to get it to do.




Cierra was lucky enough to be one of the first to take her final in the piloting class. She did well enough and passed, then was dismissed early. She hurried home to share the good news with Nora.

“Nora, I’m home! I passed the final and - ”

Her jaw dropped. Nora was standing in the middle of the bedroom, her eyes wide, with the uniform of an Intaki Family Style Restaurant halfway off.

“Nora, what are you wearing?”

Nora sighed. “I didn’t think you’d be home so early,” she said, finishing stripping off the uniform.

Cierra frowned. “What? Why? Are you working at an IFSR?”

“Yes,” Nora said as she started dressing in normal clothes. “While you’ve been at classes, I work at the IFSR.”

Cierra shook her head. “But, you have classes then too.”

“No,” Nora answered. “I don’t. I haven’t had any classes in almost a year.”

“What?” Cierra sat down on the bed and shook her head again. “Why? Are you out of money?” She nodded, to herself more than anything. “You couldn’t pay for your tuition so you started working at the IFSR to pay for it?”

“No,” Nora said again, sitting beside Cierra. “I’m sorry Cierra. I dropped out. I quit.”

“What? But… why?”

“I couldn’t do it, Cierra. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t smart enough. I was failing my classes. So I dropped out. I’ve been working at the IFSR for six months now. Whenever you went to class, I went there. I guess you had to find out eventually.”

Cierra bolted up. “You dropped out? But… But I saw you doing homework!”

“I was lying to you. It was all a lie. I’m sorry. But I couldn’t stand to tell you the truth. I’m sorry.”

“So, you gave up? All that stuff about sticking with it and not quitting, you were just lying to me?”

“No!” Nora stood up too and took Cierra by the shoulders, but Cierra quickly shrugged her off. “No, Cierra, I wasn’t lying. You can make it! Just because I was failing doesn’t mean you will! You can do it. I believe in you. I mean, you made it this far, didn’t you?”

Cierra shook her head. “I…” She wiped at her eyes and turned and walked out without another word.




Eventually, Cierra came back and found Nora seemingly asleep. Cierra lay down on the couch and tried to fall asleep herself.

Neither of them actually slept a bit.




The next day, Cierra went in for her pod implant surgery. It was early. Normally, they would have waited until just before the next semester started, but they had an opening and she insisted on it. The surgery went well.

Nora visited her as she recovered. “How are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” Cierra said. “A little sore, but it’ll fade soon.”

“That’s not what I meant, but I’m glad to hear it.”

“I really need my rest.” Nora sighed and laid a hand on Cierra’s arm, but she cringed dramatically at the touch. “Don’t do that, I just told you I’m sore!”

“Cierra, please.”

“I need to get some sleep.” She rolled over and closed her eyes. Nora sat down in the chair and waited until the nurses told her visiting hours were over.




Nora didn’t try to visit again. Cierra stayed until she was well enough to get her pod pilot test done, which was a week longer than most people stayed following the surgery. Luckily, they scheduled the tests year-round, to help meet the demand.

“Are you sure you’re ready?” the instructor asked her.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

The instructor nodded and she was hooked up to the pod interface. As the machine lifted her up, she slowly breathed in and out, just as she’d been taught in her classes. She tried to block out everything but herself. She barely felt it as she was lowered into the warm pod fluid.

For a brief second, she was floating in nothingness, then reality flared around her. For a moment, she was dazed. Everything felt more real than it ever had. She could feel every little molecule of air, brushing against her skin, such as it was.

“Oh my goodness,” she sighed.

“Yes, it feels good,” the instructor said. “Congratulations. Now we need to run a few tests.”

“Whatever you say,” she said. Her head was swimming. It was almost too much for her to bear. But she bore it and listened to the instructor’s commands.

After a few minutes, he gave the ok. “You can come out. You passed all those tests with flying colors.”

Her conscience was stolen from her and when it returned, it was lessened. But the memory of it was still there. She was placed back onto the floor and she took a deep breath.

When she stood up, she saw Nora there. “I’m a pod pilot!” Cierra squealed. “I did it!” She ran and threw her arms around Nora.

“Congratulations,” Nora said, hugging her tightly back.



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