This is what I do.
"How are you feeling?" Pilot asked.
Nerila blinked sweat out of her eyes, staring into the surgical field, and considered a dozen answers to that question. Busy came to mind, as did none of your fucking business.
She concentrated and pressed down with the holographically-generated retractor, sliding the illusory forceps past it and into the computer-generator incision and deciding on, "Fine. I'm fine."
A light flashed at the edge of her vision, the computer's warning that she's using too much pressure with her left hand. Correcting made her fingers shake and she had to pause.
This is what I care about.
Footsteps behind her told Nerila that Pilot had come into the room. "Maybe you should take a break."
"A real surgery would go for a lot longer than this." The tremor in her left hand stopped and she moved the holographic liver aside and looked for the bleed beneath.
This is who I am.
"But you're still recovering."
There. Nerila clamped the leaking vein. "That's the point," she explained to Pilot. "The chip is still learning what it needs to compensate for. I have to push it to its limits."
It took her a little longer than it should have to tie off the bleeder but the scrolling counter told her that she was still well within her margins. As Pilot pulled a stool over to the other side of the table and sat down, Nerila started to put her holographic patient back together, guts, muscles, skin.
"I need to talk to you, Nerila," Pilot said.
Nerila kept her eyes on the hologram. "So talk."
"About your son."
The light flashed, a low tone sounded. "Fortune fuck." Her left hand shaking too badly to keep its grip, Nerila only just managed to get her right thumb on the forceps before they disappeared inside the 'patient'. Pilot reached out to help and Nerila snapped "Not sterile!" as if it mattered, as if it was real.
"Sorry," Pilot murmured.
Nerila shook her hand out, made a fist, shook it again, and took a deep breath. "It's fine." When she took hold of the forceps again her grip was light and steady. "Go on."
"It's time for him to leave medical."
"He needs ... " Pilot hesitated. "He needs to be with someone. I mean, he needs ... care. Maybe if you ... well. There's a family, I found. The mother is crew, here. They're both Gallente, like you, like Mitch. They have two little girls already and they'd love to take care of ... your son."
Nerila closed the last of the incision. "Okay."
"But not just temporarily," Pilot said. "Manina - that's her name - she said it would be too hard. To love him and know she might have to give him back to you." She pauses again. "Nerila. They want to adopt him."
"Okay," Nerila said. The holographic patient shimmered and faded and she looked at the readout. Still a little slow there, but not so bad, all things considered.
"There's papers to sign."
"Got them there?"
Pilot blinked, looking taken aback. "Um. Yes."
Nerila held out her steady right hand, and after a moment's hesitation Pilot took out her datapad, tapped on it for a moment and handed it over.
"If you want to take some time to think - "
Nerila pressed her thumb to the screen and then signed her name. The datapad registered her thumbprint and recorded her signature, beeped once. She handed it back to Pilot. "There. Anything else?"
Pilot shook her head, eyes sad. "No. That's all."
"Then I need to get back to work."
Pilot took it as the dismissal it was meant to be. Her footsteps were still fading down the corridor when Nerila called up the next program on her list. Twenty-two year old made with penetrating wound upper thoracic ...
Cut. Clean. Mend.
This is what I do. This is what I care about.
This is who I am.
Without thinking about it she got up from her stool and turned away from the patient bleeding out his computer-generated blood on her table. Her feet carried Nerila down the hall and to the left, third door, through the decontamination lock.
This is not what I want to do.
Her legs moved without any instruction from her, under someone else's control, someone who could imagine there being anything more important than a bleeding patient on the table.
That someone could not possibly be her. It's the chip, Nerila thought, as the blast of antiseptic air died down and the doors to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit opened for her. Dr Sanik and Captain Night lied. It is a mind-control chip.
The chip walked her across the room to the incubator, lifted her hands to open the plexiglass lid, reached in to the baby inside. So much bigger already than the one other time she'd seen him, most of the tubes gone, only a few wires left connecting him to the monitors by the incubator, and his eyes following her movements now, no longer blank and blind.
This is not what I care about.
He fussed as the chip used her hands to pick him up, and Nerila heard her voice crooning soft soothing nonsense as her good right hand held him securely against her shoulder, her less-reliable left detaching the wires that led to the monitors.
Not only should she not be doing this, not when there's a patient, even an illusory one, open on her table, she doesn't have the right to. She signed the papers. He's somebody else's son.
Someone else is his mother.
This is not who I want to be.
The baby's head was soft and downy against Nerila's neck as the chip made her pick up a blanket from the chair by the incubator and tuck it around him, then turn to the door. Her feet carried her across the room, through the door, down the hall. Someone called out to her but the chip wouldn't let her stop, kept her moving out past the entrance to medical and into the main hangar.
She turned towards the exit and saw security heading her way, turned the other way and saw three medtechs hurrying after her. The chip sent her forward, diagonally across the hangar, to the huge secure container that housed Pilot's hab unit.
Nerila reached it seconds before security and the medtechs reached her. They were talking to her but the chip wouldn't let her hear, wouldn't let her hear anything but the pounding of her own heart and the little grumbling sounds of the baby breathing.
"Pilot," she said to the marine on duty at the door. "Pilot."
That was all the chip would let her say.
One of the medtechs reached out for the baby and the baby started squalling. Nerila's arms tightened around him, her body curled forward to shelter him, her head bowed over his. Her voice whispered "Don't cry, sweetling, don't cry, don't cry." Hands touched her and she crouched away. "Don't cry. Hush, don't cry." They were all around her now and the chip had no more instructions except Hold on and keep safe and don't let go.
Then space around her and another voice. "Nerila."
"Don't cry," she whispered to the baby, who was grumpy now with bemusement at the hot salty rain falling on his face. "Don't cry, please don't cry, don't cry."
"Nerila," Pilot said again, her hand gentle on Nerila's arm. Nerila raised her head to see Pilot swimming in a blurry haze, crouching beside her on the deck.
"Something's gone wrong," she told Pilot.
"I know," Pilot said quietly.
"This isn't me," Nerila explained. "It's the chip. It isn't me!"
"It's okay, Nerila," Pilot said. "It's okay."
Nerila shook her head. "No. It's not okay. It's not okay! I - "
This is not who I want to be.
This is not what I want to do.
This is not what I want to care about.
"Nerila?" Pilot prompted softly.
"I can't - " she blurted. "I can't - " I can't let go. "This isn't who I am!"
Pilot's arms were around her and her son, holding them both, holding them together, and her voice was very gentle. "Yes it is, Nerila. This is who you are."
Nerila looked down at the baby in her arms and he looked back at her with his father's brown eyes.
She took a deep breath and held it until her lungs burned for air.