Special Cargo

The pilot made Lula feel extremely uncomfortable. The pilot likely felt nothing at all for his part. Him? Was the pilot a man? Not in the philosophical man-or-machine sense, but biologically. She’d assumed he was a man based on his bulk and the breadth of his shoulders, but she supposed those were not meaningful indicators. Could have been a petite young woman once, like her. She shuddered.

Three orange orbs appraised her from within each of the pilot’s cavernous eye sockets. Plates of ferrovanadium and titanium bracketed—or perhaps replaced—his jaw bones, running up to his temples and wrapping around the base of his head, cradling his brainpan. A translucent plastic shell covered his crown, and a permanent facemask enclosed his nose and mouth with hard tubing that disappeared below his chest plate. His breathing was inhuman, circular and continuous, without the rising and falling of the chest. He looked dead, but somewhere in there was the husk of a person who’d elected to become a star pilot, and that’s what Lula needed, so she swallowed her revulsion and got on with it. “I need a ride to Haedus Koppa.”

The pilot was perfectly still; silent. His unblinking optics were impossible to read.

“I said I need—”

“Provide a detailed manifest to the Guild to secure a transport.” He sounded the same way he looked: like a technomechanical fucking nightmare.

“You misunderstand. I need to get to Haedus Koppa. I’m the cargo.”

“It is you who misunderstands. Hyper-relativistic transport is limited to inert bulk container cargo and high-value heavy lift. Post-zygotic bioorganic material is prohibited, and unfertilized gametes may only be transported under strict and limited permitting.” The pilot remained statue still. Lula wondered if his voice retained any biomechanical basis at all.

“Don’t feed me that regulatory bullshit. There must be something we can work out.”

“Take it up with the Guild. Good day.” He turned to leave.

“You’re lying!” The pilot snapped his head around so fast it would have broken his neck if he wasn’t so heavily augmented. Lula swallowed. “I assume you’ve still got a brain in there. If you can make the jump, so can I. ”

“I have been modified. Perhaps you have not noticed.” Jesus, was that a fucking joke? “You’re looking to undergo modification as well?”

Lula got her face within an inch of his. He smelled like varnish and rubber. “No. I’m looking to get to Haedus Koppa like this. I know you can make it happen; Dharma said so.”

The pilot didn’t move but somehow seemed to soften. “You should have led with that. Follow me. Quietly.”

Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. I found it in my copy of Project 77. The piece is labeled Hiumen, 2013. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page.

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