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​​​​Six

You blink. You haven't been DNA tested since you boarded the Titanic in orbit around Tito. But DNA scans on Tito were so commonplace it's almost a relief to be asked to do one again. Especially as the crew of the Plourde didn't even ask your name. Why, you could be a Human spy for all they know, though you know better.

"Of course," you say, extending a finger. One prick, followed a moment later by a cheerful chirp from the scanner.

"Asuka Bjorg, eagle shifter, occupation…driver." The man looks surprised. "I didn't think anyone was allowed to drive on Tito. Robots and autocars only."

An automatic smile comes to your lips. He's not the first to question your job, and he won't be the last. "Important people get Human drivers, in case anything goes wrong with robots and autocars. They're vulnerable to hackers, after all, and I could override them to take manual control. Back on Tito, I was the President's driver."

"How's a driver go from autocars to shuttles?"

That wasn't as common a question.

"The President didn't just travel in autocars. Helicopters, planes, shuttles…her drivers were trained to drive whatever mode of transport took her places. There were four of us, working rotating shifts. I only served under two Presidents, but one of the other guys had served five. He said one of the previous presidents used to come up to the cockpit to stare at the stars."

The man smiles wistfully. "I wish she was still with us. The last President, I mean. More Titans might have survived the evacuation if we'd had her leading us. But Central Intelligence probably knew that, so it took her out early."

"And Gagnon, too, the most experienced driver of the lot. We were all ready to take control of any vehicle if it was hacked…but we never expected the Central Intelligence to lock us out. We expected the hackers to be people, not computers." You shake your head. "First Humans driving us out of Earth, then machines pushing us off Tito…only to end up fighting Humans here. If I was less stubborn, maybe I'd just lay down and say I've had enough fighting."

The man grins. "You're going to get along just fine with this crew. The Altan system's home now, and we'll fight for it to the last. I'm Bonner. Was Squadron Leader, but the only pilot we have left is Eckstein, and he's a gargoyle."

Deep laughter erupts from what you'd thought was a bulkhead. The section of wall steps away from the real bulkhead, then morphs into something more man-like, though still grey. "Ah, you spoiled my fun, Bonner. I wanted to surprise the new birdie." Eckstein holsters his stunner, then offers a hand for you to shake. "I can show you to your quarters. Plenty of room in the pilots' bunkroom, with only three of us."

You shake his hand and nod your thanks. "I could sleep for a week."

"You'll be lucky to get eight hours, if the Captain finds that Human ship. Reconnaissance drones got nothing on a real pilot, and that's us. So, if you'll follow me, I'll give you a quick tour on the way."

Eckstein points out the mess, the head, and waves vaguely in the direction of the bridge before clunking open the hatch to a bunkroom.

You manage four steps before collapsing on the nearest bunk. Sleep never felt so sweet.

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