“State your name for the record please?” The voice, almost mechanical in nature seems to emanate from the walls of the holding cell. Four walls seem to press in even tighter than the slurry-filled tank she’d previously spent the last four years occupying. A name? The question seems like an errant thought; something that would have come up during Indoc almost two decades ago. As far as the room’s occupant was concerned, she was a serial number more than a name.
“TB-84172, callsign Spitfire.” Her own voice sounds synthesized, which, given the amount of augmentation her tank-borne body has undergone to synchronize with electrical and mechanical systems for the machines she operates is understandable. Her voice is projected from a vocal synthesizer around her throat and only carries the vaguest hint of anything resembling femininity, much like her flash-cloned flesh.
“Not your serial number. Your name.”
“Mk-82 Heavy Battlemech, Trenchman variant, melee to short-range loadout.”
“Not what you pilot. Your name.”
A longer pause this time, memories flashing through the pilot’s mind as if she were watching it on an instrument cluster. Oddly enough, the memories didn’t feel like her own. She was removed. Objective. Dissociated, as though they were happening to someone else. “This unit was previously designated as ‘Cassandra Nocte.’
“I, Cassandra. ‘I am Cassandra Nocte.’ You, are Cassandra Nocte.”
More flashes of memory this time. Indoc. Machines tearing apart her home-flesh to make way for the implants that would make her what she was now. More machine than woman. More machine than human. The Imperium’s work, and now here she sat in a Consortium holding cell for ‘rehabilitation.’ Silence reigns supreme in the holding cell until finally several figures step into the room, presumably from a door outside her field of vision. She felt so crippled lacking her usual sensor clusters to feed her information about her surroundings.
What she wouldn’t give for some ground penetrating radar and a Truncheon.
“This is the twelfth pilot we’ve managed to recover from the wreckage on the battlefront. What’s the Imperium doing to them?” The first voice, undoubtedly male, asked.
“Indoctrination. Psychological manipulation. You recall the America’s attempts at ‘mind control’ using psychotropic drugs, Williams?” This voice was female, likely the one asking the questions earlier. “The Imperium’s taking advantage of the body dysmorphic population. Easier to get them to accept a new identity when their own identities are already in question.” The woman nods to the heavily modified flesh of the pilot. “That, with some flash cloning technology, and psychological template flashing, and they’ve got a supply of ‘immortal soldiers.’”
“Pilots,” Cassandra corrects. More dissociated memories. Honor. Duty. Loss of human life glorified in the perpetuation of the Imperium. Mechanized pilots like herself were invaluable assets to the Imperium. No reliance on multi-person crews to operate complex machinery. No reaction lag between thought, movement, and eventual mobilization of technology. Her ‘mech responded with a thought. Weapons reloaded like a simple twitch of the finger. “We are Pilots. We are the treads on the ground; the afterburners in the sky, the warp-trails in space.” Recited by rote memory. It felt right.
“Can they even be rehabilitated?” Cassandra had to assume it was the one designated Williams speaking this time.
“Are they even Human?”
“Of course they’re human, Johnson. A little genome mapping and we should be able to put her back in a perfectly normal human body”
“Is that… Wise? What’s going to stop her from commandeering something else to get herself back home?”
“Look at her,” the woman says, nodding once again to the mangled melding of machine and woman. “She pilots with a thought. The Imperium didn’t train her to pilot everything by hand. All she can do was tailored for her by the Imperium War Machine. A purpose-built killing machine.” The woman pats the two men she’s with on the shoulder. “And you gentlemen, have the unenviable task of trying to fix her. Body and mind, at least.”
Fix her? Then she would be repaired? She would see redeployment? Any hope of being returned to what she felt she’d been born to do was dashed when she remembered they were talking about making her human again. Now she struggled, trying to free herself from bonds that simply didn’t exist. Her body simply… Didn’t work. Her mechanical inputs were disconnected. She felt no soothing pump of hydraulic fluid powering twenty ton legs. No hum of the cold-fusion reactor powering her systems.
She was running entirely on backup systems. Hooked up to something that gave her no synaptic feedback.
“Her soul on the other hand… That’s between her and her Maker.”