In this one, Arianne reflects on her feelings and has a bad time about it.



Arianne and Dr. Farsad Ranjanapti stand before the husk of Ambition in a cavernous laboratory beneath the planet's icy surface. Ambition is making a full recovery, and they are refitting him with pieces of a new frame. Doctor Ranjanapti, a tall, lean man, is carefully studying data on a holopad reflecting Ambition's memories. He says that Ambition's performance on Deep Funeral was acceptable, before Major Blommas of the Mobile Defense Corps showed up. 

Dr. Ranjanapti turns to me and says he doesn't think it's a good idea to take Ambition out again yet. He says he doesn't want either of us to end up in a worse situation than last time, but I don't believe that that's the whole reason. I wonder if he thinks I'm not capable. We were outgunned, what was I to do? Doctor Ranjanapti continues, however, that it's remarkable that we survived. He reviews the combat data from when Ambition and I fought the warlord's men on Doubtful Gallery, where we were stranded. 

He gives a play-by-play of the events of the battle, and I tune him out. It makes me sick to think about it. I wasn't quite myself when it all happened, but the memories have stuck around clearly in my mind. They ducked behind their vehicles and shot at us. Small arms fire, one rocket, a handful of low-phase plasma weapons good for anti-personnel operations. They wore cloth uniforms, and a handful had some low grade bulletproof vests. We took a long metal pipe and put it through one of the men with the vests, pinning him to the wall through his stomach. And he slumped over, and weakly tried to pull it out, but the blood was coming from his pale lips, and I didn't even see him die. Before I knew it, we were crushing three men under their truck, and they were done for. 

I'm trying to come back now and listen to what the doctor is saying, but he seems so far away, face blurry but defined enough for me to know he's studying the videos intently and making some kind of positive noise. And there's Ambition over there, standing limply in a giant chamber where two workers on a lift are positioning a metal panel taller than either of them. 

Doctor Ranjanapti clears his throat and straightens his coat. He asks that I join him for some tea, and I accept. We walk down the lab's wide hallways to the break room – a sort of cafeteria with several tables, a sink, a kettle, a fridge, and a handful of vending machines. After sitting and drinking for a minute, he more or less repeats what he says earlier: Ambition performed poorly against the Imperial officer's frame at Deep Funeral, but otherwise, Ambition handled well, however he doesn't want us to get in such a situation again... He vacillates on this point for a couple minutes before concluding that he does want us going out again. 

He elaborates that because I'm still young and a barely-proven pilot, going out on my own would be suicide – something awful would be sure to happen, especially if I came across another frame like the one belonging to Major Blommas. He begins to say that he'll make a proposition, but retracts that, and says that he is giving an order that I work with an SCO, a Strategic Coordinating Officer, overseeing me directly. I frown, because I don't get along with them – they're all old and bitter and think they know everything. Doctor Ranjanapti knows my stance on this. 

I tell him I don't like the sound of this, but he puts up a hand and says that he knows how I feel (hah, sure), but all newer pilots work with an SCO, and he has someone in mind who he thinks I'll like. I sigh and push my tea away. There's no use in fighting him on this right now, but I don't need another boss and I certainly don't need a babysitter. 

I spend most of my time in the chamber with Ambition watching over me, sitting on an unused lift, dangling my feet some hundred (at least?) feet above the bottom. I eat there, read, hang out... there's not much to do in the meantime, and all the while, Ambition tries to talk to me anyway. We do our best, but communication is pretty limited for us. Small, I hear in my mind. Yeah, I am pretty small. Small, again. I ask him what he means by that, but silence. Is he making a point? Talking about how he feels? Is it a joke? I don't think Ambition has ever told me a joke. He makes me feel good, though, with feelings of safety and approval transmitted my way. Whenever I try and "send" feelings back, I never get a response. I don't know if he gets them, and he never responds in a way that makes sense when I ask him if he does. I stare straight at the center of his chest, where the red, ribbony stuff was largest, and think as loud as I can, big. I wait for a response. 

"Lost in thought?" I hear a voice from above me, and a woman is standing above me at the lift platform, looking down at me. I have no idea who this person is or why she's bothering to talk to me. "I guess so," I tell her, looking back at Ambition and dangling my feet. I kind of hope that'll be the end of this conversation. I hear the same voice again. She tells me I'm pretty tough, from what she heard about what I did on Deep Funeral and Doubtful Gallery. 

I look up at her, and she's still there. She must be the new SCO. She doesn't look old, though, just a bit older than me – maybe 25? I ask her how old she is, and she says she's old enough to have seen a bit of action. Hmm. Maybe she's old and just looks young. "Oh," I tell her, and leave it at that, hoping she'll get the hint that I don't want to be talking to her. I feel a sudden jolt, and look up to see her climbing down the lift's rope, clipboard in hand. The lift tilts and I hold myself in place trying not to fall off as the lady crawls down to me, and upon finishing her descent, she balances it out by sitting beside me. Small, I hear in my mind from Ambition. Maybe this is a joke and he does find this funny. 

The woman straightens out her coat and pants and brushes her hair out of her face. She introduces herself as Edith Maris, my new SCO. I ask her if she's brand new, and she shakes her head and says she was previously assigned to another project far away. I try to pin down what she means by that, but she continues to be needlessly cryptic for a while before I give up. She starts laying out expectations and hands me forms and diagrams and all kinds of stuff I've already memorized, and talks about how nice it is to work with someone close to her in age. I side eye her and yeah, I guess she doesn't have that young-looking old person look to her after all. I don't know that I trust her, though. 

After a bit, we take the lift up and I let her off at the platform. "Be seeing you around," she says. "Yeah," I say, and immediately bring the lift back down. She's nice enough, but honestly, there's something that feels just a little off about her. Isn't there a reason all SCOs are old? I thought they had to have like, decades of experience. I whistle and look through the papers – all stuff I've seen before – before tossing them off the lift and watching them float a long way to the bottom, each waving back and forth. 

... … … 

Thinking about it, I do feel pretty small right about now. What if I said no, I didn't want to pilot Ambition? Would they accept that? It's not like I have anywhere to go, anything to go back to. This is pretty much it. The scientists who run labs and bloodwork and test my link with Ambition, and machines more widely. I think I remember my mom, but it's been a long time. The war, the mission to bring the next stage of human existence that the Divinities foretold. I would never question the Hasmayuk. I've seen it myself, sort of, in fuzzy shapes in dreams in the times I sleep inside Ambition's frame. 

A network of planets, itself like a little galaxy of stars, in which each is a community with a single goal: creating a utopia, a perfectly peaceful existence. No more star cruisers. No more psy-police. No guns, swords, plasma. A world where a new civilization could shout into the void and hear an echo, rather than the roar of star cruiser engines and the marching of Imperial soldiers bringing a new planet into the fold under the guise of elevating them to a "galactic standard of civility." 

Days later, we ship out yet again. What do I dream about? 

I'm with Ambition, and we're firing on a small town as civilians scatter, screaming. Fires break out, and surface cars are crushed underfoot as we methodically make our way through and clear every street. In my ear, I hear Edith's voice saying to me, "They're nonbelievers. Fire there. Get the children. Turn right, fire on that school." My hands are over my ears, but the controls move on their own, and I feel alone – like Ambition's not connected to me, and my mind is quiet, without the usual hum and warm whispers I hear in the back of my skull when we're together. 

I wake up in a sweat, in my bunk, and my heart is racing. I go to the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror while I sit on the toilet. I haven't been sleeping well since we left. I guess I'm afraid that things are already so out of control in my life that this new SCO is going to take what little control I have, and that I won't be able to resist it. Edith has been around a bit, and she seems like she's fine with her whole situation. Or maybe she's just putting on an act about being cool and collected around me? It kind of pisses me off and some part of me wants to make her cry just to know that there's something going on in there. Why can't I just be fine? 

I wash my hands and my face. It's almost 4AM, ship time. I got used to the local time for our destination on the second day aboard, so it would be great if I could go back to bed at this hour. I figure I'll go check on Ambition. Thinking about it now, I don't know if I could just leave, even if I wanted to. The only friend I have in this world is an alien inside of a machine. 

I make my way down the darkened hallways to the cargo bay, where Ambition is secured in place. Still in my pajamas, I climb up into the pilot's booth, all hatches open, and recline a bit. Ambition doesn't send anything, but I know he knows I'm here, and the warm, indistinguishable whispering noises in the back of my head acknowledge that I'm present. I pull up the holopad on the viewport and dial in to the ship's entertainment system. They're running a movie I've seen before, the same news that was available on Noble Tomb and Brass Temple, and some kind of sitcom with old people. I settle on the sitcom, because it's the only interesting thing, but even then some old man drones on about his day, a young man makes a normal remark, and then there's a laugh track - repeat every few seconds. I don't get it. 

Edith shows up and makes eye contact with me from across the room. I go back to watching my show, in the hopes that she'll leave, but she doesn't. Instead, she comes over, and leans against the railing on the catwalk beside the pilot's booth. 

She lingers a minute and I don't really know what to say to her. "So," she starts, and then pauses for a minute. I look over at her, and she says I'm up early. I tell her I couldn't get back to sleep. She asks why, and I tell the truth – that I had a bad dream and honestly didn't want to find out how it ended. She said she understands, but makes a remark about dreams being a good opportunity for learning more about yourself, from a whole different perspective. I sit up; this is maybe the first interesting thing she's had to say. "Yeah, I totally agree," I tell her, and she invites me to come along to breakfast. I slump down in my seat and sigh. I don't really want to, but maybe this is at least a good way to relieve the boredom. 

We walk down to the mess hall, and she looks at me funny – like, surprised? – as I sit in the officer's section. I wonder why? I start to wonder if she thinks I'm beneath her, but I push that out of my mind. I'm hungry, and if it gets some kind of reaction beyond the probably-feigned sincerity, it's fine to me. We sit kind of awkwardly for a little while as I shovel fried eggs and barley into my mouth. She makes a little small talk at me, but I don't really know how to reciprocate that appropriately. I'm used to talking to older people. She asks about the show I was watching, how I've been sleeping, whether I've been keeping up on my exercise, whether I read the brief for the next planet we're stopping at (I have not)… and I answer, ask her roughly the same questions, and then there's dead air. 

She asks me if I've always wanted to be a Divinity pilot. 

I don't know why, but I just start crying. Why am I crying? Tears are dripping into my breakfast and I can faintly hear her trying to apologize for bringing it up, saying something like, "I didn't think this would be a sore subject," or something like that. "...No," I tell her, "I never wanted this." I start sobbing quietly. Have any of us wanted this? I've never met another pilot. We're all isolated from each other. Why is that? I can't imagine anyone wanting to live like this. Who else in the world has something in their brain like this? Who else is so alone, but unable to have their own thoughts to themselves? I wipe my eyes with the backs of my hands, and I can hear the two or three other people around uncomfortably shuffle out of the room while Edith looks at me helplessly.

"Did they tell you about when I was chosen?" 

"Er, yes, they did," she says quietly. 

I was sixteen. I was without my parents for a while by then, and I was still on my homeworld, alone in a bunker with a hundred others as the city was shelled from low orbit. I didn't know that, then, though. I just knew that the explosions hadn't stopped for days. And then it did stop, but the explosions were intermittent. I didn't know anyone there. Everyone I did know was in a shelter across town, probably. Who knew if they were safe? I didn't want to think about it. 

The doors were torn open by rescue drones, humanoid machines standing seven feet tall, with four hydraulic arms. The doors had been damaged, they explained over a loudspeaker, and they ordered us to evacuate in single file. I walked out onto the streets and my home was gone. Many buildings were collapsed, and the streets were filled with rubble. It was unrecognizable. Above us, star cruisers hovered inside the atmosphere, hundreds of them in the sky. We were led to a bus, where men with rifles were waiting. 

A man in fatigues with a purple, white, and black cord on his jacket stood beside them. He had a black armband with white letters that read "PSY." One by one, everyone got on the bus, but he stuck his hand out. I still remember what he said: "Not this one, she's got it." He took me to a van and they handcuffed me to the seat. The rest of them watched with some mix of concern, indifference, and some kind of othering expression I couldn't place.

I don't like thinking about my time at the PSY corps field facility. But I remember when our world was liberated. They were transferring me to a separate building, two drones with guns escorting me through a fenced-off yard that used to be a playground. And then the sky lit up, and two huge, red battleships entered the low atmosphere, firing on every cruiser. And then I saw a machine landing, the Divinity they call Temperance. I was more terrified than I have ever been in my life. 

After everything had settled, a Divinity-aligned rescue team showed up at the PSY corps facility, and they put me onto a stretcher. I don't remember much after that, but I know several days passed. They told me I had a gift, but I was too full of pain medicine and some kind of liquid nutrients to understand half of what they said. They explained again later. 

"You can't go back home," they told me, "there's not much that's left. But you can make a difference so this won't happen again." I was cold, depressed, and nothing was the same. They trained me. Did tests. Talked to computers, made them move, made them think harder than they could on their own. "There are others like you," they told me, "doing important work. Saving people from the people who attacked your world." 

At the time, it didn't even register what they were asking of me. I agreed because they were nice to me, even if I had to do weird things for them. "Tell this network that Workstation 3 doesn't exist. Workstation 4 is connected to the network insecurely – please tell the other Workstations to forget about that. Workstation 6 is exactly a kilometer away – tell it to shut down the automatic cooling processes on the generator it's connected to." 

Then they told me another Divinity had been raised from a deep fissure on a distant moon. They called it Ambition. I didn't know what a Divinity was until they showed me a picture of Temperance, and I... freaked out. I wrestled the person who told me to the ground and had an anxiety attack. I don't remember it happening, but that's what they said, and they left me alone for a while after that. And then they told me that I would be going near it, as I was a perfect candidate. It didn't make sense. 

They brought me near it and it happened again, which I did remember. Everything in my brain was so goddamn loud, and I couldn't breathe, and I thought I was dying. I banged on the glass of the pilot's booth and they watched intently. I couldn't get out and they were just looking at me. And then I started to hear the whispering, and a low, quiet hum, and my vision became fuzzy and black. 

And then Ambition showed me the end of life as everyone knew it.