The Cultivated Mind
by Mosca

Pilot became a pilot because he wanted to see the galaxy. There were things one sacrificed, like companionship. But then, he had a constant companion: Moya's symbiotic running commentary, always taking up half of his consciousness with status reports, waves of panic and frustration, bursts of joy when the baby shifted. Moya was not so intelligent-- she was at best a rather perceptive beast-- but she was loyal and responsive. Pilot had learned that she was fond of him as laboring animals were often fond of their masters, and he clucked thoughts of reassurance and affection when he was otherwise idle. Good Moya, strong Moya, my brave leviathan.

Pilot had more idle time than pilots were intended to have. When the Peacekeepers had controlled Moya, he'd always had numerous tasks to manage. Sometimes the barrage of demands frazzled him, but they also comforted him, in that they gave him a sense of purpose. Now, when systems were normal and his crew of six were occupied with their usual bipedal elsewheres, he had plenty of brain left for musing and reflecting, for opinions and emotions. For all of the things that his own species, obsessed by the dual values of efficiency and tranquility, strove to eliminate.

It was the bipeds, and the way a pilot could get to know them when there were only six. Perhaps it was Crichton specifically: having never seen any life beyond that of his backwards and presumably isolate home planet, he had no reason to see Pilot's intelligence and skills as inherently less valuable than those of a Delvian or a Sebacean. Lacking a frame of reference, Crichton was a true egalitarian. Crichton's denseness, and the odd tricks of language that he called a sense of humor, tried Pilot's patience. Crichton had a welcoming attitude towards a universe that he understood with sometimes astonishing scientific precision. Pilot occasionally envied Crichton's instinctive comprehension of the way things fit together, and he always admired it.

Pilot was surprised to find that he liked Crichton. He had grown accustomed to the Peacekeepers' abuses, the way they barked demands and treated him like part of the circuitry. Bipeds were something to be endured in exchange for the joys of being a pilot, not something whose company one enjoyed. And indeed, Pilot despised most of them: the shouting, ignorant Luxan; the spastic Nebari; the stupid and self-important Hynerian. Most of all, the Delvian, who for all her claims of higher awareness and compassion would never understand a being as different from her, in both physical form and way of thinking, as Pilot was. Ease his pain while they hacked off his arm? The pain wasn't the point. Arms grew back.

But then, Pilot had never been one for liking other people. He said over and over that he'd become a pilot to see the galaxy, but it was just as much to escape the din of his homeworld. His people filled each other's minds with bickering and trivia, wasted their capabilities on pointless webs of family relationships and convoluted architectural projects. The telepathic and multitasking abilities of his species did not protect them from pettiness and tediousness.

As soon as he'd become old enough for pilot training, Pilot had fled his nest of squabbling brothers and critical aunts. He wondered if the bipeds on Moya realized that his name had not always been Pilot; certainly, they did not know that he'd discarded his given name because of the unpleasant memory associations it brought, of a life he'd eagerly abandoned. The Peacekeepers called him Pilot because they could not pronounce his real name and lacked the creativity to give him a new one beyond the acknowledgement of his office. But Pilot had come to like the nickname: it did, after all, represent what he was. He might not have been the best pilot in the galaxy-- his merely-competent performance in pilot training had earned him this replacement posting on a prison transport, a job that made up for its lack of prestige with its surfeit of danger-- but he was a pilot nonetheless, and so he would be until he and Moya drifted lifeless into that great unknown field of stars.

Crichton liked to try to convince Pilot that he was more capable than he really was. "Haven't crashed her once yet," Crichton would say. "And besides, you're the only one here who appreciates sarcasm." Crichton's "sarcasm" didn't quite chime in euphony with the hummings of the translator microbes, but Pilot had come to know what he meant by it: the opposite of a true statement that lent emphasis to unpleasant truth. If that interpretation was correct, then sarcasm was indeed something that Pilot appreciated. It was the only way-- or, at least, Pilot's only way-- of forcing himself to blink and obey, to show no trace of recognition that, with one snip of a claw, or better, the judicious adjustment of certain life-support systems, Pilot could reduce a foolish and demeaning commander into a puddle of fluids and spent flesh. But Pilot knew that, as compelling as his revenge fantasies became, their execution would destroy him. His power lay in potential and vague threat, and he kept his claws, his controls, and his homicidal impulses to himself and his leviathan.

Where Crichton and Officer Sun were concerned, Pilot's restraint went beyond simple acknowledgement of the danger of murdering bipeds. It went to the fact that he would miss them if they were gone. Had, in fact, missed Crichton: had been relieved when the others insisted they continue the search for him long after it seemed hopeless. But it was Officer Sun who he thought he would miss most. He had observed recently that Officer Sun had ceased to be "Officer Sun" in his mind, but rather Aeryn: the name that was who she was, not what she was. Pilot did not only tolerate and respect her, although he did both of those things. His feelings for Aeryn approached what the bipeds seemed to mean when they talked about "affection." And for that reason, Pilot didn't like to think about Aeryn.

Pilot knew how to keep himself from thinking about things that he didn't want to think about. His species began in early childhood to learn how to streamline thoughts and information and to assign them the needed amounts of concentration. In pilot training, Pilot had refined his skill to the point where he could push undesirable trains of thought into nooks of such low priority, of so little concentration, that he no longer noticed that he was thinking about them. Without this ability, he would have been an acute psychiatric case. He would dwell ceaselessly on the misery of his early life: believe a now-irrelevant mother's accusations of inherent inadequacy and allow the probe of her tentacled mind into his. Pilot survived by turning his memories into ghosts that could no longer knock at the walls of his chamber. On the rare occasion that they might, he could simply refuse to let them in.

When Aeryn knocked, it was much more difficult to turn her away. Pilot knew that she was unaccustomed to being alone, and in the final balance she didn't distract him much, so he permitted her to sit with him in his chamber, although he never openly encouraged it. Often, she would say nothing to him; the refuge from the terrible echo of a near-empty leviathan was enough. It was enough for Pilot, too.

When they were passing close to an object of astronomical interest, or if Pilot had discovered something in Moya's scientific files that he thought was worth sharing, he would point it out to Aeryn. Sometimes, she would ask a question or two, but for the most part, she absorbed the knowledge silently. Aeryn pretended to be closed-minded, like Peacekeepers were generally brought up to be, but Pilot had observed that her curiosity was almost bottomless. She snapped up new information like a hungry Hynerian. Crichton was teaching her a few words of his native language-- the idioms and double entendres that the microbes couldn't fully translate-- and she would bound into Pilot's chamber, eager to demonstrate her new vocabulary.

"Perhaps when I'm finished learning English, you could teach me some of your language," Aeryn said one day.

"I'm afraid that would be a useless exercise," Pilot said. "You wouldn't be able to pronounce any of the sounds." He paused to reassign two DRDs to a flickering light source on Tier 19. "To be fair, I doubt I'm physiologically equipped to speak Sebacean."

"The concepts wouldn't transfer well, anyway," she said. "Your species thinks quite differently than mine."

"Not so differently that we fail to communicate," Pilot said, checking the waste energy output levels of Moya's dorsal propulsion units.

"Differently enough," Aeryn said, and an expression of pure horror crossed her face. Pilot remembered that it was not so easy for a biped to shut out such terrible memories. Impossible, in fact, to do so with Pilot's effortless efficiency.

"I suppose you would have some idea," Pilot said. He stared out through Moya's optical receptors at the field of stars before him. It was foolish of him to think for even a moment that she might grow to understand him enough to care for him. It was a great irony, this compelling mind in a body so incompatible with his in every respect. One of the things Pilot had sacrificed in order to become a pilot was the opportunity to find a mate. That was not the kind of affinity he felt for Aeryn, but he rather wished that he could desire her. It would unravel the paradoxes of his affection for her.

Pilot had become a pilot because he wanted to see the galaxy, and he reminded himself frequently of how much he was going to see. How much more he would experience than most of his species, and with how much more freedom than other pilots. None of Moya's other crew knew much about the Uncharted Territories, and they left most of the navigational decisions to Pilot. It was conceivable that he might see everything that he'd ever dreamed of seeing, so many things that all the undesirable memories would be pushed clear out of his brain. There was so much out there. It would be a wasted opportunity to stop with Aeryn.


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