Hannah Siberia: "Acting Captain" Chapter 01
From Our 'Verse
"Alliance Cruiser Copernicus, this is Acting Captain Hannah Siberia of the Blue Sun freighter Hei Long, requesting permission to dock." The comms jockey didn't bother with a verbal reply, and Hannah saw the landing lights switch from red to green almost immediately, as she slid the Hei Long into one of the oversize docking bays on the Copernicus. "Like stuffing a turkey into an envelope," she muttered as she cut the port engine thrust a little too soon and metal screeched against metal. "Well, we're here, anyway." She said to no one in particular.
Soon Captain Withers would stumble out of his bunk and ask what the hell was going on. He was enough of a captain to know when his ship had docked by the change in noises vibrating up through the deck, but Captain John Withers was a man recently beaten by life, brought low by his unswerving dedication to the Independence Movement, but unable to join the fight because of his advanced age. Hannah and Withers had been flying together for over six months now, and she stood by, helpless and unable to provide any comfort as she watched Withers become more withdrawn and depressed as the news from Serenity Valley became progressively worse.
She was a loyal employee of Blue Sun, ever since they had rescued her floating in space six years ago. She came back to sputtering life in the belly of a ship much like the Hei Long under the inchoate witness of the crew of the 精神 Jīngshén, who had pulled her cryogenic suspension module out of the black grip of limitless space on a milk run to a planet on the far side of the Blue Sun. They proceeded to tell her she had reanimated during the 26th century, over 600 years from the day she felt weak and sick after drinking a glass of water, laced with anesthetics and mental suspension compounds that would prepare her for her 600-year nap.
She had been angry, that day she had been awakened. More than grateful that she was still alive, she was incensed she had been put in suspended animation without any sort of warning, and was left with nothing but the shirt on her broad back and everything in her brain. It had been enough. A long period of indentured servitude making bricks on Higgin's Moon earned her enough to buy a spot on the navigators testing board, and Blue Sun had picked her up as a navigator, brushed off the mudder dust, and eventually put her to work flying their fleet of ships. The Hei Long was her first big freighter, and she was still trying to accept the unbelievable size of the thing. Her little 20th century brain lived in constant amazement at the new universe into which she was reborn, and all in it. Drunken Captains, though, she knew.
Capt John Withers boiled up out of his bunkroom like a colony of angry ants and wove unsteadily onto the bridge. Hannah set the docking clamps and ran down the list of tasks as Withers blearily reminded her to unlock the docking door. "Ain't nobody gettin' on or off this boat, you keeping the hatch locked..." He hiccuped indelicately and left the bridge, Hannah in his wake.
(Why are they on The Copernicus?)
Hannah Siberia was a big girl; not wide, but tall, and strong, like bull. Russian peasant stock left her with an unusually strong constitution and a definite dislike for loquacity. Her parents had raised her in the beautiful country around the Ural Mountains until her 10th birthday, when they emigrated to the U.S. When she was old enough, Hannah joined the Navy, and rose quickly to the rank of Captain. Her U.S. Citizenship granted her access to some extremely sensitive Navy flight research projects, and she became intricately involved in experimental projects in Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) propulsion systems, effects of microgravity, and the biology of astronauts. There were tests. The ones she ran were generally mundane, except for the flight testing, which consistently left her energized.
As she had become more deeply involved, however, whispers about other tests began to reach her. Deep in the bowels of the research lab she shared with other groups, other far less-innocuous tests were being conducted. Tests on people and machines and monstrous combinations of the two. Groundless rumours disturbed Hannah's calm, but so did some of the creepifying stories. Without any evidence, she put it away. She was a Navy Officer, a soldier; a subject.
(um…what?) She always turned her head when they drew blood out of her arm. For anything.
"Ya think I'd get used to people stickin' needles in me after five years," Lou Crispin had winked at her from the chair across the aisle, facing hers. "You'd think I would start looking forward to getting sucked dry!“ For a moment, neither of them had spoken, Hannah merely stared coolly at the man's crude humor. She expected him to laugh, but instead, the other éntendre became suddenly clear to Marine Lieutenant Louis Crispin, and he snapped his gaze back to hers, suddenly horrified to his bones at what had come out of his mouth. Hannah continued to stare implacably as he opened his mouth on an explanation, and right then, Lou knew that icy gaze of hers wouldn't be doing him any favors that day. To Hannah's surprise, the lanky Jew from Montana simply closed his mouth, stood up and began to leave. She could see a furious flush seeping up the back of his neck, but admired his handling of the incident by strategic retreat. A bark of laughter escaped her before she even knew what it was. Lou turned to see she was still laughing - not unkindly - but as if she was surprised at herself.
While Lou and Hannah tried it over with a new opener and much better results, her Siberia blood trickled into the hands of the operative who had selected her to be the one. This operative knew there had been no mention of the plan to conserve her tissues in deep freeze to her; the nefarious plots to keep her skills on ice, so to speak, and wait for technology to catch up to exploit them properly. If only there had been enough money, it would have happened sooner, but it wasn't until Hannah was 45 and about to retire that the Navy contracted with a new corporation with unusually deep pockets, and greenlighted "Gulag" - the experiment that would resurrect Hannah Siberia and her clones as the ultimate cybernetic fighter pilots of the 21st century. Hannah had neglected to have any children of her own during her lifetime, but that only left the rich new company with more potential Hannahs to harvest. She was to be the first in a long line of super pilots, and chosen, ironically, because her body, her genetic makeup - by a fluke of nature - had made her the only candidate out of the pilots they could have chosen able to withstand the stresses of genetic manipulation and extensive organ and cybernetic implants. The secretive new military ops branch of the corporation had marvelous plans for Hannah Siberia's genes and all the possibilities that implied echoed down the line of Siberia ancestors like mirrors facing each other in the filthy dark halls of the minds of the Operatives who crafted their troubling science.
It was inconceivable to Hannah that such thoughts ever erupted in her ordered and well-planned life on the Earth that was. She understood and believed in her inalienable rights, and even though she could not ignore the subtle changes in her world - the erosion of the Fourth Estate, governments in bed with corporations, media control by the new alliance of America and China, she nevertheless believed the political changes were merely decorative, since real government happened at the level of the People, the right to vote and the democratic process.
She had sworn to protect the new constitution, not that much different from the old, when the navies integrated, and defend the Sino-American Alliance with her life. The new corporate involvement began to reach into every facet of government and organ of social control. Their influence in military projects, and specifically, Hannah’s research, became so pervasive, Hannah began to worry. When her custody of all the records for the Navy experiments had been taken over by a contractor, she gave them over without a fight, but deep in the snow drifts of her mind, she knew it was time to investigate. Following protocol, just before she was due to retire, she took charge of the destruction of all the facilities, records and results of her experiments, but before she could begin, the new corporation cheerfully supplied all the contracted labor needed to dismantle the laboratory, the special planes they had developed, dispose of all the equipment and shred the records. Hannah's superiors ensured she just as cheerfully handed it all over.
"Cheerfully..." She thought, drumming irritable fingers on her desk. Hannah's face was constructed such that smiling looked unnatural and uncomfortable there, and the military bearing she was expected to reflect came so naturally that she had been compared to a tree made of stiff, inflexible wood by everyone that served with her. Her face had kept nearly everyone at bay in Hannah's 45 years, and the few who knew the marshmallow under the mask kept the knowledge mum for fear of retribution. Hannah was an excellent shot with a pistol and a rifle, a hand-to-hand combat school graduate and decorated Navy pilot. The closest she got to "cheerful" was "warm."
Suddenly, she tried out a smile. There had been a man, in flight school - Lou Crispin, and they had progressed to the dating stage, and she remembered smiling with him, more than once. What would it have been like to smile like that all the time? Would her life have been different if she had been a smiler? Her face pulled into some semblance of a smile and inside, she laughed at the image of herself, six months from retirement, sitting in her office alone, making faces. The emotion that erupted with the laughter made her physically uncomfortable, and she absently poured a glass of water from the pitcher she kept in the refrigerator, and drank it while she mused on where to begin asking questions about the corporate take over of all her projects. They had control, now, of every military project that could be farmed out to contractors, including projects she never dreamed were taking place. Her nausea increased and as she stood up to run to the lavatory, her vision went gray and the last thing she saw was the carpeted floor of her office coming up to greet her. Too fast...