Birth of a Pod Pilot: Caldari

Jotin was born, not from a womb, but from a tube. He never knew his parents - only that they had been carefully selected from a long list of Hyasyoda employees for their genetic makeup. It was these genes that set him apart from the other children in the creche. He had been afforded special classes. His toys had been far more advanced. His food was more nutritious and tasted better. Even the creche mothers had treated him better, almost like he was a celebrity.

The other children were not allowed to play with him. The separation was “a necessary part of your development”, according to the creche mothers. “You have to learn to be different,” they said. “You have to learn to be special.”

He wasn’t alone in this, of course. There were others, many born from the same genetic pairing. He didn’t know exactly who. But he had his suspicions, especially as he grew older and began to notice that some of the other children looked similar to him. None were identical. It wasn’t cloning, rather harvested eggs and sperm fertilized and placed into the artificial wombs colloquially referred to as “tubes”.

“Your task today is to decipher this shape,” the teacher said as a pulsating 3d image appeared on the computer screen in front of him. “It’s currently an algorithm that corresponds to an actual object. Once you decipher it, come to me and I will grade you on your response. Are there any questions?”

None of the students raised their hands. They’d done similar exercises before. This one was slightly more complex than the last, but none of the students would need further explanation. “Good,” the teacher said. “You may begin. Remember, no discussing with your fellow students.”

Jotin, who sat at the rear of the class, turned to Yumi, one of the other students. He suspected Yumi might have been his sister, or a half-sister at the least. “So, what do you think this test is for?” he asked.

“Probably supposed to get us to think abstractly,” she said. “Make us think outside of the box. Like all good researchers do. It’s the only way to invent.”

“No way,” said Haala, sitting to Jotin’s left. “It’s all about problem solving! The best way to be a good CEO is to know how to solve problems quickly, no matter how strange they are! So this is to test us on that.”

“Maybe,” Jotin said as he turned back to the screen. The shape continued to pulse, seemingly with random jitters and oscillations. “Seems kind of strange for that, though.”

He watched the shape, concentrating, looking for any pattern. After several minutes, none emerged. Parts would match up, but they were never in the same order. If the algorithm really was there, it must be a long one. “I wonder if it’s a trick question?” Taran asked. “Like, there isn’t really any algorithm and they’re just waiting for us to come out and say it?”

Jotin considered this for a minute. “Nah,” he finally said. “They wouldn’t lie to us like that. The teachers always tell us the truth.”

“But what if they aren’t, this one time?” Taran said. “I mean, it could be.”

“Jotin’s right,” Yumi said. “The teachers get angry when we question them, so I doubt they’d tell us something wrong.”

“I guess…” Taran muttered, not quite convinced.

Jotin looked at the screen some more. It seemed like the more he watched it, the more chaotic it became. The same shapes kept appearing, or at least approximations of the same shapes, but never in any pattern that he could decipher. Still, there was something in that increasing chaos, he figured. Something there that was a hint…

He heard a chair scraping against the floor and looked up. One of the boys, Titis, was standing and walking up to the teacher. Jotin strained to hear, but as far back as he was, he couldn’t even read their lips. He did notice the frown on the teacher’s face, however as Titis was allowed to leave the classroom.

“Did Titis get it?” Yumi asked.

“He must have,” Haala answered. “He got to leave.”

“No, I think he got it wrong,” Jotin told them. “The teacher didn’t look happy.”

“Then why did he get to leave?” Taran asked.

“Maybe you only get one chance,” Yumi figured. “Right or wrong, you only get that one answer.”

“We’d better get it right then,” Jotin said. “Enough talking.”

He looked down at the shape. Something struck him about the oscillations. He was right, they were getting bigger. They were coming faster and there was more changes. New shapes were being introduced. He heard a few more chairs moving, but didn’t bother to look up. He was sure he almost had it.

Then he got it and was a little shocked by its simplicity. At first, he was sure he had been wrong, and he watched the shapes longer, still with no pattern in the shapes themselves, but one now clearly obvious in the changes themselves.

He stood and was a little surprised to see that half the class had already emptied. Even Taran was gone and Jotin usually finished well before Taran on these tests. He turned a little red and shuffled up to the teacher, who looked up at him.

“Well, Jotin, what did you get?” The teacher’s voice was tired, but a little hopeful. He was expecting something of Jotin.

“Well,” Jotin said a bit nervously. “I think it’s just an exponential curve.”

The teacher raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And how did you come to that?”

“Well,” Jotin said, “I was watching the shapes, but I realized that the shapes didn’t have anything to do with it. It was the changes themselves that were important. They were increasing at an exponential rate.”

The teacher smiled a little. “And did you figure out the algorithm itself?”

“No,” Jotin admitted. “I didn’t think I’d need to. Only find out the shape.”

“Hmm,” the teacher muttered, tapping his chin. “Do you think you can try drawing the shape curve for me?”

Jotin slowly nodded. “I think so.” The teacher handed him a touch pad. Jotin slowly traced a long, sloping curve with his finger that sharply rose at the very end. He inspected it for a moment, closed his eyes and matched it against what he saw there, and then handed the pad to the teacher.

The teacher looked at it and let his smile creep a little larger. “Good work, Jotin. You are dismissed.”

Jotin breathed a sigh of relief and walked from the classroom.

The next day, the classroom was missing nearly a fourth of the students. No one said anything about it. It had happened before and - while not a daily occurrence - was common enough that the children considered it a natural. They had become accustomed to loss early on.

Jotin noticed that Taran was gone, as was Titis. One of his friends, Kurodo, was also missing. He quickly dismissed that friendship. He’d only ever see him down below, with the rest of the creche children from now on.

“The price of success,” one of the creche mothers had told the class the first time the purges had happened. The successful left the unsuccessful behind. Jotin was proud to be one of the successful.

That night, at evening meal time, he was speaking with Yumi. “So, now I think my mother was probably a researcher,” she was saying. “She must have invented something amazing. Something important enough that they wanted to match her DNA with the CEO’s.”

“I doubt we have the CEO’s DNA,” Jotin said.

“Maybe you don’t! But I know I do! My father is the CEO of Hyasyoda. My mother is a brilliant researcher. Their love was forbidden by corporate policy, so they had to express their love by having a tube child. And when I’ve proven my worth to the corporation, they’ll tell me and I’ll take over for them.”

“Where do you get this stuff?” Jotin asked. “Your parents probably didn’t even know each other. We’re probably both the children of some important executive with good business skills and someone really smart, like a scientist - ”

“A researcher!”

“Yes, maybe a researcher.”

“Well, if it were just that, why are we all getting special treatment? We must have been someone important’s children. Otherwise, why all the special classes.”

“They’re trying to teach us something,” Jotin said. “We’re being groomed for something special. But I doubt it’s to take over the corporation. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many of us.”

“Oh, you’re just jealous I’m the CEO’s daughter and you’re just a nobody’s son.”

“If I’m a nobody’s son, then you’re a nobody’s daughter.”

She stuck out her tongue at him. He laughed and tossed a bean at her. It caught her right between the eyes and she squealed and almost immediately, a creche mother was on them, scolding their behavior.

By the time Jotin had turned sixteen, there were only two others left besides him. One was Yumi, the other was an Achura named Keita. They were his only friends, by necessity, thought Yumi remained obsessed with the idea that her parents were important people. But she was at least fun, unlike Keita, who proved himself to be humorless and unwilling to risk adventure.

Regardless, they were what was left when the teacher had a talk with them.

“You are all special,” he said, repeating the rhetoric they’d learned over the years. “More than ever before, you are special. We’re not the only creche to run this project, of course,” he said. “There are dozens - hundreds of others out there doing just what we’re doing.”

“What are we doing?” asked Yumi. “Why are we special? What about our parents made their genes special?”

The teacher nodded. “Yes, it’s time you know. Your parents were all members of the Caldari Navy. They weren’t only the best and brightest men and women that served, but they were something more. They were capsuleers.”

“Capsuleers?” Jotin asked. He had heard of them, of course. Everyone had. They were the heroes of the Caldari War of Independence. They had forced the Gallente to surrender to the State and allow it to peacefully leave the Federation. And today, though the technology had spread to the other three empires and the public was gaining access to it, people still looked on capsuleers with awe.

“That makes sense,” Keita said. “We were born to be capsuleers. Our parents were chosen because they were perfectly compatible with the pod. So we will be too.”

The teacher nodded. “Very astute, Keita. You’re right. Genetically, you three are free of any genetic warning signs that would restrict you from becoming a pod pilot. So were the other children. But you three have passed all of our tests. You’ve shown yourself to be mentally capable of being great pod pilots. The best of the best.”

“So, what now?” asked Jotin. “What do we do?”

“You’re going to the State War Academy,” the teacher answered. “You’re going to be taught much more than anything we could teach you here. This… This was just an infant’s world and the three of you are the only ones to survive until childhood.”

If the creche had been an infant’s world, the State War Academy was a child’s nightmare. The three of them had been split up. “You must leave behind the old bonds of your creche,” the admissions officer said to him. “Such ties weaken you. They hold you back. You need to be ruthless in your pursuit of greatness. Friends are good when they can do something for you. They are a burden when you have to do something for them.”

Yumi had tried to argue, but the officer had quickly dismissed her pleas. The three were not going to be living together, taking the same classes, or even be at the same campus. Jotin was sent to Kisogo, Yumi to Piekura, and Keita to Eitu.

Despite the distances, the three managed to stay in contact. The school didn’t block comm channels, as the students needed to call out for any number of reasons.

“It’s terrible,” Yumi said one night. “These classes are crazy. I don’t know how anyone can stand it. I’m having to take one called Combat Readiness. Essentially, it means that in the middle of the night, the instructor has you paged and if you’re not in the classroom within five minutes, you lose points off your grade. And my room is almost a kilometer away from the class. I have to sprint the entire way!”

“That’s not so bad,” Keita replied. “You just need to get faster. I’m guessing you aren’t taking any of the Sensation classes?”

“I am. But so far, all we’ve been doing is talking about the human senses. Why? What happens?”

Jotin laughed. “Your instructor must not be moving as fast as ours, then. The Sensation classes are basically designed to overload your senses. They blast light and loud sounds at you. They rapidly change the temperature.”

Yumi turned a shade pale. “You’re kidding, right?”

Keita shook his head. “No. And if that’s all they’ve done to him, they’re moving slow at his campus as well. We have already advanced to pain tolerance in addition to the sensation overload.”

Jotin sighed. “No, we’re doing that too. I just didn’t want to get into all the gory details.”

“Oh man,” Yumi moaned. “I don’t think I can stand this.”

“So,” Keita said to Jotin, “how many times have you passed out?”

“Passed out? What, from the Sensation classes?”

“Yes. It’s only happened three times to me. On the first day, the first time they introduced the temperature fluctuations, and the first time they turned on the pain tolerance.”

“It’s bad enough to make you pass out?” Yumi asked.

“I haven’t passed out at all,” Jotin said. “I did throw up once, on the first day. But after that, I’ve been alright.”

Keita narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Really?”

Jotin shrugged. “Yeah, really. I’ve had more trouble with the flight simulator, really.”

“Oh!” Yumi said, “I like that. I’m good at that. It made me appreciate all those spatial awareness exercises we did back at the creche.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not terrible at them. But they do make me sick. One time I did black out from the g-force. But I guess I’ve been better than some of my classmates. One guy blacked out and… uh… well, he made a mess of himself. It wasn’t pretty.”

“What about you, Keita?” Yumi asked. “How’ve you done on the simulations.”

“I’ve done… acceptable,” he said. He didn’t elaborate.

Just then, a noise went off in Yumi’s room. “Dammit!” she said. “That’s the Combat Readiness instructor. I’ve gotta go guys.” Her signal cut off.

“I’ll be going as well,” Keita said.

“See you - ” Keita’s signal cut off before Jotin could finish.

He leaned back in his chair and looked around his spartan room. A pile of work for his general studies classes remained unfinished. He slid over to that and began working on Advanced Calculus.

The three of them survived their first semester. From what their instructors told them, this was the hardest part. “I say its because you were brought up for this purpose,” an instructor told Keita. “Not like those CEOs’ children who get pampered and get into the pod pilot program on the coattails of their parents’ donations. They don’t ever last the entire semester.”

But despite being brought up for it, the three were all worse for the wear. Keita constantly sported dark circles under his eyes. Jotin had developed an aversion to bright light thanks to the Sensation classes. Yumi seemed to be affected the least, though some of the cheerful positivity had clearly been drained from her.

They had all been given a week-long break between semesters and they spent it with each other on New Caldari. “I wonder what next semester will be like?” Jotin wondered.

“More of the same, just more difficult,” Keita said. “That’s what I understand. The Sensation classes get ramped up. The Flight Simulations become more complicated.”

Yumi ran a hand through her hair. “They’re cutting out the Combat Readiness classes though,” she sighed.

“You say that like you’re going to miss it,” Jotin chuckled.

“Well…” she said. “I actually started to like them, toward the end. Mainly because I could run the kilometer and barely be out of breath. I’ve never been in as good shape.”

“You could always wait until it’s five minutes before you class and just run to them anyway,” Jotin joked. “That way you’d still get that experience.”

She chuckled and nodded. “Well, that’s one option. Still… I’m barely keeping up with the rest of the classes as it is. If they’re more difficult than last year -”

“Yes,” Keita interjected. “They are weeding out the weak and undeserving. Anyone who can’t handle these tests won’t be able to handle the pressures of being a pod pilot. It’s simple.”

Jotin nodded. “That’s right,” he said. “We just need to keep our heads straight. We can do this.”

“Yeah,” Yumi said. “We can. We can do this.”

One of the new classes in the second semester was Combat Situational Awareness. It dealt with real life ground combat situations. It was unlikely that a pod pilot would ever encounter these in the real world, but crossover training was important at the Academy, especially if someone washed out of the training. They’d still have some training toward another military career.

On Jotin’s first day, he had been teamed up with three others in the class. Garin, Loshun, and Ichira. They were decked out in combat gear and their mission was to storm a compound and take out the hostile occupants. Garin had been put in charge of the mission and he had the unit slowly approach the compound.

“Alright. Jotin, Ichira, you two will go around the side. Loshun and I will storm the front. Don’t hesitate to take out anyone you see, understood? Remember, these are the enemy. No mercy.”

“Roger,” Jotin answered. He and Ichira slowly moved under cover around to the side of the building. The order came from Garin and they stormed the side. Ichira took out the reinforced door with an RPG, then Jotin charged in.

He spotted a man trying to get up from the rubble and opened fire on him, taking him out. He spun around and saw another target and leveled his weapon at it.

Then he froze. The target was a child, not more than ten or eleven years old, aiming a coil gun at him. “Drop it!” Jotin ordered, but the child kept the gun aimed squarely at Jotin. “I don’t want to hurt you!” he said.

But the child didn’t respond. He just started to squeeze the trigger. Suddenly, the child dropped. “What’s wrong?” Ichira asked. “Don’t think, move! Keep firing! It’s just a simulation after all!”

Jotin swallowed hard and nodded, looking down at the body of the child, a huge cavity in the middle of his chest. He looked up and moved on. He kicked down a door and opened fire into the room without bothering to identify the targets.

“It was terrible,” Jotin told his friends. “I hesitated. I couldn’t pull the trigger. If not for Ichira, I would have failed the mission.”

“I hesitated as well,” Keita admitted. “Though once he ignored my command to surrender, I fired. Even that had the instructors yelling at me. They didn’t want any hesitation. I’ll know better next time.”

“I just… I don’t know if I’ll be able to not hesitate,” Jotin said. “It was much easier when I just fired without looking at them. Of course, there were no more children. Not on my end, at least. Just armed strikers.”

“Yes,” Keita added. “Knowing that they were striking workers did make the job easier. Ungrateful fools.”

Jotin nodded. “What about you, Yumi?” he asked. “You’ve been quiet this whole time. Did you have the same training mission we did?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I had it.”

“Well?” Jotin asked. “What happened?”

“I didn’t hesitate. When I saw the gun, I fired. I don’t think I even noticed it was a child until after the simulation was over, when the instructors congratulated me. Apparently, most people do hesitate the first time.”

“Congratulations,” Keita said. “It looks like you’re finally ahead of Jotin and my curve on something.”

“Thanks,” she said, flatly. “I wonder if I’ll have to do it again?”

“Probably,” Jotin said. “It’ll be just like all the other classes. They’ll hammer us until it’s nothing. Remember, as a pod pilot, we’ll be expected to destroy ships with hundreds of people on them.”

“Of course,” Keita said. “But then, we’ll be kilometers away. We’ll never see them. There is a very psychological component to that.”

“Yeah,” Yumi said. “But we can do it. We have to.”

The next time he encountered something unexpected in a simulation, Jotin didn’t hesitate. This time, it wasn’t a child, but a teenage girl with explosives strapped to her. He’d taken her out before she got within 100 meters of him. Later in the simulation, one of his squad failed to take a shot at a terrorist using a woman as a human shield and Jotin did. He managed to only graze the woman on the cheek.

That night, when he reentered his quarters, he was shocked to find Yumi there waiting for him. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I’m leaving,” she said. “I can’t take this any more.”

“What?” he asked. “Can’t take what?”

“This training. It’s too much for me,” she said. “It’s… It’s horrible, Jotin. I’ve known that since the first day. What sort of monsters are pod pilots?”

Jotin stepped back. “Monsters? What do you mean? Capsuleers are heroes! They won the war for us. We should be honored to become them!”

She shook her head. “No! Look at what they’re doing to us. They’re trying to break us down. All these classes, they’re just designed to break our humanity.”

“What makes you think that?” he asked. She sighed and sunk down onto his bed.

“They make it so that we can’t feel like normal people do. Pain is something to be ignored to us now, it’s not a warning sign! We’re supposed to kill children and innocent people to get jobs done!”

“That was just a simulation,” he said. “It wasn’t real. No one was really hurt. Don’t tell me it got to you? It’s nothing different than playing a game, or watching a holovid, or reading a book.”

“Those things aren’t training, Jotin! But this school… They’re trying to make us into killers without any conscience. I can’t do this.”

“You were born to do this.”

“I don’t care what I was born to do,” she said. “I’m leaving.”

“Where are you going to go?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I got here, so I figure I can get to anywhere I want to go. I’m sure I can find work somewhere. Maybe I can even get into the STI. I mean, we’re smart, right? I can do it, I know.”

“Yumi,” he said, “you can’t do this. Without the corporation, we’re nothing. And if you leave, you’re leaving the corporation.”

“To hell with the corporation! They raised us to be killers for them!” She stood up and walked closer to him. “Come with me, Jotin. Please. I know you’re not like this either. You’re not a killer!”

“What?” he asked. “I can’t go with you!”

“Please!” she said, grabbing him by the arms. “Please, I need you! We can do this together. We can survive together. We don’t need to become pod pilots. We don’t need to lose ourselves.” She leaned in and kissed him on the lips.

He shoved her back. “Get out of here,” he said, angrily.

“Jotin, I - ”

He shook his head. “No. Go. And hurry. Because if you don’t, I’m going to call security. And they won’t let you desert.”

She stared at him a moment and then stood up. She straightened her clothes and nodded curtly. “Alright, fine. Bye, Jotin.” She left.

He stared at the door for a long time after she was gone.

The next day, the Corporate Police Force came to see Jotin. They were looking for Yumi, who had disappeared. Security records showed her leaving Jotin’s room after she entered.

He lied to them. “Yes, she was here. But when she left, she told me she was going back to her campus. She said she needed someone to talk to after a difficult training exercise.”

“Our records show you talk to her over comms frequently,” they told him.

“Right. I guess she wanted to talk to some one face to face. I don’t know where she went.”

Eventually, they let him go. That evening, he called Keita.

“Yumi left,” he said. “She’s disappeared.”

“I know. The CPF interviewed me to see where she went. They aren’t happy that one of their tube children has gone AWOL.”

“She came to see me last night too. She said she couldn’t take the training any more. She said she felt like she was being turned into a monster.”

“Did she?” Keita asked with a raised eyebrow. “Did she say where she was going?”

He shook his head. “No. Just that she was going away. Nothing more than that. She tried to get me to go with her, but I wouldn’t go.”

Keita paused for a long moment, before saying, “I see.” He looked away from the screen. “Well, I need to get back to my studies. Goodbye.” He shut down the channel before Jotin could say anything.

Later that night, the CPF came to him. They “reviewed” his testimony to them, then accused him of lying when he didn’t change his story.

“We know she told you she was going to leave,” they said.

“How did you find out?” he asked.

“That’s not important. Now tell us the truth.” Caught in his lie, Jotin told them everything that had happened. “And you’re sure she didn’t say where she was going?”

“Yes. And that’s the truth. I swear.”

“Very well. You can go. And do not try to deceive the corporation again.”

Jotin rededicated himself to his training. He didn’t call Keita again and Keita never called him either. They understood each other perfectly. He didn’t hear from Yumi either. But every night, he thought about her, and worried for her.

As he continued training, he realized she had been right. They were trying to strip him of his humanity. But it wasn’t how she thought. They weren’t making him into a monster. They were making him into a machine.

The training advanced to even more difficult levels in the third semester. They used dummy implants to simulate the real thing. He felt what it was like to be a space ship. He knew what it was like to actually be a machine.

The pain from tanking classes was just a dull ache. The mental somersaults from processing all the telemetry and incoming data all at once was barely difficult. He had been trained well. He passed his third semester with flying colors.

The surgery to implant the pod implants was clean and he healed quickly. He was on the precipice of becoming a pod pilot.

Someone had entered his room. Though it was dark, the soft swish of the mechanical door was enough to wake him. His eyes shot open and he listened. He heard the person’s soft breathing. He didn’t have a weapon near him, so he wrapped his hand around his pillow, planning to use it to surprise the invader.

“Did you hear that Keita is paralyzed on the left side?” It was Yumi’s voice.

“Lights,” Jotin said and the room brightened just enough for him to see. Any brighter and he got a headache. Yumi, looking barely any different than the day she left, stood there.

“Well?” she asked.

“What are you doing here?”

“I asked you a question first,” she said. “Did you hear?”

“No,” he said. “I don’t talk to Keita. Not after he ratted me out about you to the CPF.”

“He hooked up to the pod two days ago,” she said. “It was not a success. Partial mind lock. The entire left side of his body is paralyzed. He’ll never be able to move it again, no matter what.”

“That’s too bad,” Jotin said. “He’d have been a decent pilot. He would have served Hyasyoda well.”

“You’re still going to risk it?”

“Yes,” he said simply.

She waited for more, but nothing came. Finally, she said, “I’m working on a ship. I’m an engineer. I’m just an assistant now, but I’m learning.”

“You could have been so much more.”

“I could have been paralyzed.”

“You could have been a success. You could have been a capsuleer, a hero to the State, a champion of the corporation. But now you’re just an engineer working on a ship. What sort of ship is it?”

“An industrial. We haul things. You could still leave. You could come with me.”

“I’m not going to be an insignificant cog,” he said. “I’m going to serve the State and the corporation that birthed me, raised me, and educated me. I was born to be a pod pilot and I’m going to be a pod pilot.”

She crossed her arms. “You know, I found out who our parents are. Do you want to know?”

He bit his tongue to keep from saying anything. Once he reigned his shock in, he answered. “It’s not important, but I suppose so.”

“Our father was an assembly worker. He amounted to nothing. For thirty years, he’s worked for Hyasyoda, and for thirty years he’s been on the same assembly line, making the same ship parts. Our mother is dead now, but she was a nurse. But all she did was clean bed pans and change sheets and fetch medicine. They weren’t important. They were chosen just because they had the genes that Hyasyoda needed.”

“So you’re following in their footsteps of being a forgotten nobody, huh?” Jotin asked.

Yumi stared at him, then turned and walked out.

“Lights,” Jotin said. The lights turned off and he lay back down. “Doors lock.” There was a sharp click. A few moments later, he was sleeping.

The day was finally here. Jotin was going to be hooked up to an actual pod for the first time. An instructor was there, watching him. They didn’t speak to each other. Jotin simply changed into his pod suit and then let the technicians hook the pod’s wiring to his implants.

A moment later, a machine was lifting him into the capsule. The warm, dense fluid of the capsule flowed around him. He barely noticed it and when all sensation left him, he didn’t really notice that either.

But when everything came rushing back to him, he felt that. He gasped despite himself. The simulations had hinted at what this would be like, but they had done a piss poor job of preparing him. He tingled all over. He had to correct himself, the pod tingled all over and he felt it.

“Are you able to hear me?” the instructor asked.

“Affirmative,” he responded out of instinct more than realizing what the instructor was saying.

“Good. Proceed with test flight A-1.”

“Affirmative.” He fired off a thruster and a wave of joy went through him. He imagined it was like walking for the first time, only now he was capable of appreciating it. He fired off another thruster. Within a minute, he was spinning the capsule around, maneuvering it around the training bay as easily as he would walk across the floor.

When he finished the test flight, he continued to move around. He briefly fired up the warp drive, though he didn’t allow it to actually activate. He sent commands through the pod to activate weapons systems, even though he knew there were none, just to feel the feedback.

The instructor indulged him for a moment, then had him finish. “That’s enough. Prepare to disengage.”

This time, Jotin felt the loss of sensation. Even though it was only a few seconds, he immediately despised it. As he was removed from the pod and placed on the training deck, he felt like something was missing.

“Are you able to move?” the instructor asked, out of routine more than actual concern. Jotin was clearly standing without any problems.

Jotin saluted. “Affirmative, sir.”

The instructor saluted back. “Congratulations, cadet. You are now officially a pod pilot. You still have a lot of training to complete, but you are now one of the State’s elite.” The instructor allowed a rare smile. “How does it feel?”

Jotin didn’t smile back. “I’ve been pursuing greatness and I’ve gotten a taste of it. I’m not going to be satisfied with that. Nothing will stop me. Nothing at all.”

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