Three In A Pod

The clothes are to my taste, just like Nicolas promised -- or at least, they're not contrary to it, which is the main thing. It's simple canvas and leather, not once patched but for the badge on the chest that I'm told is to make people think we've gov authority even when we haven't. It's not actually a copy of the feds' uniform but it's close enough to fool anyone who isn't looking too hard, and it's still on this side of legal.

When it comes to the pod, there's no guard. Instead Nicolas straps himself into the seat next to me. It's a little 3-person pod: a pilot, insofar as something designed to go straight down needs a pilot; a navigator, ditto; and a passenger. Nick's pilot. I'm the passenger. The navigation seat is empty.

"The Owl?" I ask, hoping I'm wrong.

He nods. I can just about see him out of the corner of my eye; twisting my head makes my neck ache. "Like I said, she's the only one of us with a gov permit. We'll need her to break atmosphere without getting stopped by the patrols."

"They don't have nets on Trevlia. They'd have to wait for you to hit the ground." So can we please leave her behind?

"Nets are a lot easier to deal with than ground patrols, trust me."

Well, there go any hopes I might've had that this trip won't be horribly unpleasant and full of insults, veiled abuse, and generally unkind behaviour on the part of our companion. "She doesn't like me," I say.

"The sight of you in her spare uniform probably won't help."

I glance down at my clothes, and then sharply at him. "These wouldn't fit her," I state, with absolute confidence. "You're lying."

He grins, a wide grin that shows absolutely no regret. "Not as gullible as you look, Jane, but it was worth it for your expression." Then he hesitates. "You don't have another name, I suppose?"

"Not one I'm telling you." I haven't used my real name since I cut my leg out of the gov trap that robbed me of it and left my home planet. Jane's good enough for a smuggler. Nothing fancy about it, nothing memorable.

The pod opens. I assume it's the Owl who sits herself down in the remaining chair, but the pod's laid out in such a way that I can't see her without imitating her namesake and twisting my head all the way around. Given that I don't have a terrifyingly long neck tucked away inside a feathered body, I'm not about to try it.

Pretty soon she says, "So Jane, you got yourself some issues with identity, have you?"

I thought she might at least let us detach from the station before she started with this. "You're a dick," I say. She won't kill me in the pod. Firstly because she wouldn't get her rock, and secondly because she'd have to put up with the mess all the way down. "I know who I am. It's everyone else who has issues."

"You're no one. You're just one of Harrowven's smuggler trash."

"I wasn't--"

"You were better than that, were you? One of his whores, maybe? Bet he couldn't wait to figure out what you actually had underneath whatever rags you wore when you left Cannavan."

For once I have a feeling there's something she doesn't know: the real circumstances under which I left my home. And that gives me a grim sense of satisfaction, so I'm going to keep that bit to myself. "You're so unimaginative with your insults," I say. "You honestly think you'll get to me by implying I had sex with Harrowven? You think there's not worse that's been said of me?"

"Jane," begins Nicolas, as if he wants to warn me against something, but I'm calm. Mainly because I'm strapped to my seat and couldn't fight if I wanted to, but I'd say that in this instance the end justifies the means or whatever the appropriate idiom is.

"I'm not the one so ashamed of my past that I've got no name at all," I say, looking over as far as I can in the Owl's direction. I can't quite see her. "Before you start talking to me about identity."

"I told you," she says, "you don't want to know who I was before."

"Maybe it's you who doesn't want to know."

"We're stuck on this pod until we hit the surface," says Nicolas suddenly, cutting through the argument. "The three of us, in this tiny space. If you're going to argue all the way down we're (a) going to reach critical oxygen levels way too soon and (b) I'm quite possibly going to crash this thing out of sheer annoyance. Jane, don't let her rile you. Owl, please, for once in your life, can you keep your mouth shut? You're too old for this kind of bickering."

"I rank you, Nick. Don't start giving me orders."

"And I thought we were something approaching friends, but if you need to be ordered rather than merely suggested, I guess that's not the case. I just want to arrive on Trevlia without a splitting headache, okay?" He begins preparing the pod to leave the station. The dials flicker bright colours in the corner of my vision, and I can't help but be fascinated by them, even if his dancing fingers are all but out of my sight. Damn this stupid design. Knowing how to operate one of these things would no doubt come in handy.

"Jane's the one who needs to shut up," says the Owl. "Tell her to be quiet."

"They aren't doing anything but responding to your insults and provocations. Without them we can't find the cargo without getting blown up by one of Harrowven's inventions, so stow whatever baggage you've got until the mission's done."

I'm about to thank him for defending me -- even if he's still part of the crew that had me kidnapped and brought here in the first place -- but then he speaks again.

"And Jane? If you even think about betraying us down there, I'll let her have you."

The End

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