Tears streaked her cheeks as she sat there, numb from over stimulation. Colors blurred, sounds were distorted, smells intensified.
She could hear someone trying to talk to her but they seemed very far away, a voice hidden behind a door at the end of a long hall.
She shook her head, trying to make sense of what was happening.
"Commodore." the faintest of whispers. The voice, familiar. She latched on to it in the cacophony of sounds, using it as an anchor.
"Commodore Lianne. Do you hear me?" His voice was more forceful, demanding.
She gave a quick shake of her head as she forced her mouth open, "I hear you."
Her voice sounded alien to her, and very far away.
She latched onto the sides of the cloning vat, dizzy and nauseated.
"Where am I?" she asked, though she already knew.
"Amarr, Emperor Family Academy Space Station. You had an accident."
Accident. A polite way of saying you died. That moments earlier you were far across the galaxy and someone killed you. That some part of you was still out there, floating in space, scarred, burned, or frozen. Maybe she was still there anyhow, in the asteroid belt in Kurniainen. If the pirate hadn't taken what was left of her for God only knew what.
It never got easier.
She'd been podded before. She had woken up in this very room countless times in her earlier days of flying, having gone through the process a dozen or so times before.
Her mind worked quickly to process the fact.
The last images burned across her memory. An asteroid belt, she'd been engaged with a Sansha when the pirate warped in on her. The belt was a difficult one, hard to navigate in. Her corp mate had lost his ship moments earlier in the dense mass of rocks though had managed to get his pod out safely.
She'd stayed behind, trying to get the last Sansha...and that's when it happened. A pirate in a dramiel had warped right in on top of her. She couldn't get out of his range, couldn't get away because she became stuck in the dense debris.
She watched in horror as her pod was caught. Destroyed.
And then everything was dark and cold.
Moments later she was waking up, as if she'd merely been asleep.
The rush of memories overwhelmed her and for the briefest of moments, her mind protested.
Some small part of her wanted to reject the sudden onslaught of an entire life filling her mind, her thoughts.
It wasn't her, was it?
She gripped the sides of the cloning vat tightly, her knuckles white, as she was forced to relive the moments of her life in lightning fast flashes.
She was five, running through the palatial corridors of her family estate, naive and happy. She was was seven and her mother was dying by the hands of her father and brothers. She was thirteen when she learned the family secret, when they brought her into the horrific world of blooding.
Macabre images of slaves being tortured, drained. Sacrificed, delivered unto God.
Blood on her hands, streaming down her pale arms.
Hadrien guiding her, teaching her.
Tears dripped from the corners of her eyes.
Other memories continued to play across her thoughts, imprinting in the back of her mind. Her first kiss. The first time she had fallen in love. The first time she had flown through space. Her first battle.
Emotions overwhelmed her as she remembered, trying to make sense of it all.
She focused her stormy blue gaze on him, trying to place him in the set of memories she'd just been delivered.
"Yes....Joshua...?" she asked in an uncertain tone. "You're...the pod technician...?"
He nodded with a smile, "Good. It's all coming back to you? Do you feel like you can stand?" he stretched his hand out for her.
"I...I think so." She laid her hand against his, dripping with ambiotic fluid. "You're the first person I've ever touched..."
He quirked a brow as he pulled her from the vat, helping her to her feet, "I'm sorry...?" He smiled an apology as he draped a towel around her.
"No...was just musing on it. I remember touching other people...but I really haven't, have I? I've been here this whole time." She glanced to the clone vat.
"Strange, isn't it?" he responded as he helped her over to the showers. "Are you sure you're feeling alright...you seem different this time," he said with a hint of concern.
"I feel different. I feel...I don't feel like her."
"Me. I'm sorry." She shook her head as a look of confusion swept across her delicate face. "Me. I meant me."
He nodded as he helped her into the shower stall. "Sometimes it takes a while to fully integrate. I'm sure you'll be fine."
"Do you think...do you think I had a soul. Before you woke me up, I mean. Do you think...for those few fleeting moments, before I became Shalee...do you think I was someone else?"
He gave her a quizzical look. "That, Commodore, is for the Theological Council to decide. But the general opinion of the masses is that no, you're nothing more than a 'meatbag' before you're awakened."
"Oh.... I see. I just can't help but feel like ...something isn't right. That I'm not living the right life."
"How do you mean?"
She shook her head, "I don't know...I guess I'll figure it out."
He waited for her to shower then lead her to the medical bay, readying her for the implants and hardwire that would render her a better combat pilot.
She stretched out on the med table and closed her eyes as memories continued to seep into her consciousness.
"Joshua? Do you think I am a bad person?" Tears seeped from the corners of her closed lids.
"Bad? Not at all. You fight for the glory of the Empire. How can someone who does all the things you do be bad?"
"You don't know everything I've done."
He smiled down at her as he positioned the light above her head, "Certainly not. But God does."
He tilted her head and pushed her hair out of the way as he sloshed an antiseptic across the base of her skull. "Is there something bothering you...?" he asked, uncertain if he should breach the bounds of their professional relationship.
"I just feel...that I am spinning out of control."
He rubbed his thumb against her temple, trying to soothe away the stress, "Relax. The download isn't perfect 100% of the time. You'll feel a little disoriented but things will straighten out soon. You need to relax and let everything sort itself out."
He injected several doses of medicine into the bottom of her neck, just below her hair line, one to numb the area, another to put her to sleep so that he could insert her implants. "Everything will be fine soon enough, Commodore."
"If only it were that simple," she mumbled as she drifted off to sleep, loosing control of her thoughts as she started to dream.
A holodrone activated and the image of a small girl with long red ringlet curls projected, hovering just beside his arm.
Joshua noticed the movement from the corner of his eye and jerked, knocking over a small table full of implants and medical devices.
"What the.." he caught himself before her cursed. He stared at the giggling child, "Who...what...are you..."
The girl gave a dimpled smile, "Don't you know?"
He quickly darted his hand through her, "I don't believe in ghosts..." he said in amazement, "..but no child should be able to access the holographic equipment in here..."
She giggled again as she glanced over to Shalee sleeping. "She forgot to tell you. She wants the snakes implants this time...she likes to go fast."
Joshua took an unconscious step backwards as shock slid across his face. He grabbed hold of the counter to steady himself.
"...Shalee?" he stared at the little holographic girl. "But how?"
She held her tiny finger to her lips, giggling. "Shhh. It's a secret."