My executioner cut a graceful curve through space as it orbited the training beacon. I adjusted my camera drones, watching as my engines painted a partially formed, ever-fading, luminescent halo of heat and plasma around the small radio array.
“How does she feel,” came a disembodied voice. I was startled. My ship shuddered, making small ripples in the halo. I realized it was Commander Jun speaking over coms.”
“Good sir,” I responded. I felt my lips move in thick liquid. More ripples in the halo. “I think the capacitor array isn’t feeding properly. It feels a bit,” I struggled for words.
“Yes sir,” I responded, “Exactly.”
“The capacitor array is fine,” He replied, “You’re getting corpus feedback. Still feeling your implants. You just got your spine drilled in twenty places.”
He was right. I had been struggling for the past twenty minutes to adjust to the synesthesia of simultaneously being a ship in space and a naked body floating in the dark in a fluid filled pod. I concentrated on the camera drones again, my halo had become highly irregular.
“Okay, training. Let’s get to it then. Stop the ship and eject,” he ordered.
I nodded. A momentary fear of drowning washed over me as I felt my head move in the viscous pod fluid. I focused my will, and the ship came to a graceful halt. I concentrated on peeling off my metal skin. The executioner broke apart, and my small pod emerged into the vastness of space. I felt cold and exposed. Something was flashing somewhere in my mind, or perhaps on the inner hull.
I focused. It was an alarm warning, I was being targeted and locked in place.
“What’s happening?,” I said, panic in my voice. I could taste the salt from the pod fluid.
“Welcome to the Imperial Guard child. I’ll debrief you in station.”
I swept my camera drones around. Jun’s punisher was hovering in space above the beacon, the halo left by my engine trails barely visible now below him. His pulse lasers swiveled into place and fired a volley of white beams into my capsule.
There was a dull red flash, like glancing directly into the sun. A thousand flashing images leapt into view. Warnings, diagnostics, damage reports. Confusion turned to terror.
I opened my eyes. The curved inner bulkhead of my capsule was visible. Glowing with a wicked red heat. I pushed away from the boiling metal as the light shifted to bright white.
I gasped, choked by warm fluid. I felt a short dull pain as hands firmly gripped my shoulders, pulling me closer to the heat. I struggled against it, choking, struggling for breath. Then I felt a tiny pin prick, like the sting of a bee, and my strength left me.
Strong arms lifted me out of the clone vat. I gasped for air and immediately vomited, expelling warm salty clone vat fluid from my new lungs.
“How’s she doing,” I heard a familiar voice.
“Terrible. We had to sedate her to get her out of the bath. Vitals are all over the place…”
“So situation normal then,” said Jun.
“Yes sir, pretty typical.”
A man shaped shadow entered my field of view. I struggled to focus, but the afterimage of white hot bulkheads still obscured my vision. I squinted.
“That’s why you don’t open your eyes,” he said calmly. “It’ll pass. Congratulations private, you passed. Clean yourself up and meet me on hangar deck in 20.”
“Yes sir,” I rasped. Shaking, I climbed out of the vat. The technician handed me a towel.
“You’ll find your uniform and a neocom in the locker,” he said in a comforting tone as he headed toward the exit. “Welcome to the first day of immortality. I’ll give you some privacy.”
I steadied myself on the clone vat and began toweling off the clone fluid. As my vision cleared, I stumbled over to the locker and gazed out the observation window at the training grounds. My executioner still hung in space, pilotless. My halo was no longer visible.
I dressed, collected my thoughts, and headed down to hangar deck.