People say starship pilots become their ships, when they're plugged in to the pod.
It's as true as any simple explanation of a vastly complex process affected by a thousand thousand variables can be, which is to say, not very.
Apart, the ship and the pilot exist, separate entities. When the intricacies of Jovian technology join them in a union more intimate than any imagined in the world of the flesh, one does not become the other.
The pilot is not the ship any more than the ship is the pilot.
But it is true enough that when the neural links slide home into the pod-jacks and the connection goes live a pilot is no longer themselves entirely, either, not the same self that walks on two feet through the corridors of the station, that sees only what can be revealed by limited human eyesight, the self contained entirely by a frame of flesh and bone.
A pilot in pod gains and loses with each transit of the barrier between metal and mind. Loses and gains with each journey back.
Capsuleers differ in the way they negotiate the constant demand of their profession to cross again and again from the self of the flesh to the self of the stars. Some reject the idea of unity between themselves and their ship as much as they can, and talk instead of controlling their ship as if pod technology is only a more efficient version of the Captain's bridge chair. Some regard their ships as if they were bodies to be put on and taken off, as casually as anyone with access to cloning technology puts on and takes off the body of their birth, declaring that their self is contained entirely in their intellect, whatever physical architecture it may be hooked up to at any given moment.
Both may be right. Or neither.
Cloning teaches us that the mind must be separate from the brain, that the self must be separate from the body it inhabits. If that is true, then the capsuleer makes the ship they wear themselves as thoroughly as anyone wearing a vat-grown body has made that biomass lattice their own even before the slow colonisation of their DNA.
But not everyone believes it is true. Some hold that something essential is lost with that first transliteration of memory and personality from flesh to flesh. Other say they believe no such thing, but hoard and protect their first body behind steel walls and security screens sufficient to keep even CONCORD out. The mind is the self, true, but the mind is the product of the brain, with all its intertwined and ceaselessly firing neurons responding to every twitch and tingle of the body that houses and shapes and changes it daily.
Except for capsuleers, who regularly, even eagerly, switch off the sensations of their flesh and switch on the carefully calibrated information flow from the thousand systems of their ship.
A pilot in pod does not become their ship, but perhaps in the intangible alchemy that technology provides, pilot and ship together become, temporarily, a single self, a mind created by the biological reactions of a human brain to mechanical stimuli fed directly into the cortex.
As complex as the technology of the pod is, the human mind is more complex still. For many pilots, their sense of control or habitation, of ownership or union, varies widely between one ship and the next. Different makes and models, different specifications and capabilities, all affect the comfort - or lack of it - of the pilot in the pod. And other intangible considerations, too: more than one pilot has been known to complain that this Vagabond, this Falcon, this Megathron, is just not as comfortable as the last.
Many a Chief Engineer has spent hours hunting for undetectable flaws and cursing their employer's eccentricities.
This pilot, though, had no such sense of nagging incongruity as he stretched his consciousness out through the kilometers of corridors and ducts of his Chimera-class carrier. This ship was not new, not unfamiliar. It was, in fact, home, in the pod or out of it, and the flood of information that poured through the pod implants was a background hum as reassuring and unnoticed as the beat of his own heart.
The ship had a heart, too, although the core life-support processors didn't beat, but hummed a steady whirr. Air hissed through vents and was drawn back again, washed through the scrubbers, pumped past the green leaves of the plants in the hydrobays and sent on its way again. Across the ship, machinery kept up its pace while redundant systems were in various stages of power-down or maintenance cycles.
The bipedal carbon-based components of the ship performed their tasks with the same reliable consistency, or moved through the rest and recreation stages necessary to peak efficiency. In one compartment, staff from engineering discussed improvements to the capacitor output mix over a game of cards; in another professions of undying love were offered and received; the muffled Rat-tat-tat. Rat. Tat of marines at pistol practice came from the range. A woman was singing as she switched out relay circuits in the cargo hold, a child was crying quietly in compartment 1583C, a med-tech sighing with relief as he looked at a test result ...
For the ship, all these sounds were of equal importance, or lack of it: non-operational background noise, of far less relevance than the hum of the capacitor or the whine of the shield buffer.
But the ship was not just a ship, when the human pilot was in pod, just as the human pilot was not only human when he was encased in the ship's embrace.
A child crying.
Responding to the pilot's interest the ship's systems sorted and ordered the flood of information with a new set of priorities. The sound was separated out from the quiet babble picked up by sensors all around the ship, identified, pin-pointed.
The neural links withdrew and the pod seal opened. The pilot slid through the decanting chamber and to the floor below, enduring the indignities of the process stoically. Jets of warm water sluiced away the pod-fluid before a blast of hot air dried the moisture from his skin. A uniform, immaculately pressed, was laid ready. Mere moments after that single anomalous sound had caught his attention, the captain stood before the door of compartment 1583C.
He pressed the call button by the door frame. "Camille? It's Silver. May I come in?"
At Camille's assent, muffled but intelligible, he keyed the door open.
The room, with its profusion of vegetative artwork, was of course familiar. The small red-headed girl sitting in the far left corner, hugging her knees to her chest, was less so.
"Camille, it's past twenty-three hundred. Shouldn't you be asleep?"
Camille sniffled without looking up. "Couldn't sleep," she said.
"I see." Silver paused. "Do you think you might be better able to sleep if you went to bed?"
The girl shook her head. "I feel better here," she said.
"I see," Silver said again, although in fact he did not, in more than the strictly literal sense, see. "Do you mind if I join you?"
"Yes," Camille said. "I mean, no. I don't mind." She shuffled herself sideways a bit, making room for him in the narrow wedge of space between Commander Invelen's desk and the wall.
Silver lowered himself down to sit beside her, his back to the ventilation duct, the faint hum of the life-support processors distantly audible under the gentle hiss of air, the constant whirr of the Utopian Ideal's heart, not, of course, a human heart that beat a steady rhythm but an artificial heart that hummed steadily without pause, much as -
He hesitated, and cleared his throat slightly. "I imagine you miss your sisters quite a bit. Cia. And Ami."
"I'm not crying," Camille said.
"I can see that," Silver assured her.
"And even if I was, sometime even marines cry." Camille sniffled again and wiped at one eye with her sleeve. "But I'm not."
Silver offered her his handkerchief. "Certainly not."
"Thanks." Camille took the handkerchief and blew her nose.
Camille blew her nose again. "I'm a bit worried about Ami," she admitted softly.
"Cia will take good care of her."
"I know," Camille said with a sigh. "Cia's good when you're sad. It's nice she's good for something." She held out the handkerchief to him. "Thanks."
"Ah, you should keep that. In case you need it again," Silver said quickly.
"Okay." Camille tucked the handkerchief into her sleeve.
"When you can't sleep, at home, what do you do?" Silver asked.
"Cia usually makes me hot chocolate," Camille said.
"And that helps?"
Camille nodded. "Yeah."
"I'm sure the officers' mess could send up some hot chocolate, if you wanted," Silver said.
"It's okay," Camille said sadly. "It wouldn't be the same. I think I'm just going to sit here for a bit."
Silver nodded. "Do you mind if I sit with you?"
"No," Camille said. "That'd be okay."
Camille sighed again, and shuffled herself a little closer to Silver. "Silver?"
"Cia said you're not very used to little kids."
"I suppose that's true," Silver said.
Camille leaned her head against his shoulder. "It's okay, though. You don't need to worry about it. I'm nearly nearly-ten, and when I'm ten I'll be nearly big enough to start training to be a marine, and that's practically almost grown up. So don't worry. I won't be a kid much longer."
"I will," Silver reassured her, "do my best not to worry about it."
"Good," Camille said, and fell silent again.
A thought brought up the interface for Silver's internal neocom, another created a memo for the Facilities and Maintenance division. Work order: Commander Invelen's quarters, compartment 1583C. Temporary relocation of bed to far left corner of compartment, adjacent to ventilation duct. Work to be completed next main-day shift.
He let the interface fade from his vision and glanced down at the top of Camille's head, her ginger hair a vivid contrast to the dark blue of his uniform. The slow regularity of her breathing and her limp weight indicated that she had fallen asleep.
Given the lateness of the hour, that was not unexpected.
What Silver had not expected was his own discovery that he did not, altogether, mind.