Shipmind Chapter 1
This is a new writing project we’re picking up! It’s a story set in the same universe as the Starship Game. We’ve historically had trouble keeping up with projects long-term, but I think it’ll be fun to keep this going as long as we can.
The first sensation was one of falling. No, not falling. Weightlessness. I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t feel anything else, but the familiar grip of freefall was there.
No lights. There should be lights. The hum of a living starship on the edge of hearing. But not even that. Not a good sign.
No, wait. I did hear something…
“Try that. Can you hear me now?”
“Yes!” My voice sounded wrong. Mechanical, almost. “Yes, I can hear you. I can’t see anything where I am.”
“It’s working! Don’t worry, we’ll get you the rest of the way woken up. Do you know where you are?”
“No. I don’t recognise your voice either.”
“Not surprising. You’re in the medical bay of the CNV King’s Ransom, or what’s left of it. We had to put you in an MMI. Do you know what that means? No?”
I heard another voice. Staccato, excitable. “We had to put your brain in a jar! Wasn’t much we could do for your body, sorry, but that magic Kuto brain tank knew what to do with you.”
I thought about that for a moment. “Is that why I can’t remember what happened? Do I have brain damage?”
The first voice answered me. “It’s not uncommon. You’ll probably never remember your final moments of consciousness before this, but any other gaps you have will come back to you. Do you remember your name?”
“That’s easy enough. I’m Captain… Captain…” That’s not right. Why was I blanking on my own name?
“That actually narrows it down.” The first voice again. “You’re Captain Carter Rathens, CNV Fearless. We picked up a few of my crew after–”
I cut the voice off, determined to show I could remember something. “I ordered everyone to lifepods. There was… something terrible. We couldn’t stay.”
“I’m afraid that’s right, Captain. We lost the Fearless. Probably would have lost the whole crew if not for your order.”
I could hear other voices then. A low murmur at first, but then someone called out, “It’s Captain Rathens! The skipper made it off!” The murmur erupted into scattered cheers after that.
Well. At least I was a popular commanding officer.
“So what’s this… MMI thing?” I asked.
First voice again. “Right, yeah, you might not know about those. In layman’s terms, it’s a tube that keeps your brain alive and lets you interact with electronics. You’re talking to me through a speaker right now.”
“That’s why my voice sounds wrong.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that, Captain. Speech synthesizer’s not very smart. We’ll try to get it sounding more like you later. How’s the video feed? Any weirdness?”
“Video feed? You mean… no, I can’t see you at all.”
“What? You should be able to… oh hell. Woozy! You didn’t plug the MMI’s camera in!”
All of a sudden, I could see. Just blank white at first. Then everything zoomed out as… no. The person leaning over the camera sat back, and then I could see more than just an extreme close-up of their white coat.
The words came out before I could stop them. “You’re a ferret.”
“Very good, Captain! I’m Pepper, and I’m a querral. You humans call us space weasels, and you’re not wrong. I’m the chief medical officer of the King’s Ransom and, far as I can tell, senior surviving officer. It’s that bad.”
Another ferret bounded over. This one wasn’t wearing a coat, but a bright orange jacket, and seemed to have tool belts strung around them like bandoliers. “Hi! I’m Woozy! I was the best engineer on the ship even before everything blew up, and I got the brain jar working!”
Well, this one was certainly enthusiastic. Seemed appropriate somehow. Still… there was something I felt like I had to ask. “How many more of my crew made it?”
I saw Pepper’s ears move back a fraction and already knew I wasn’t going to like this answer. “All told, there’s seventeen of us. Eleven from my crew and six from yours. Eighteen now that we know you’re going to make it.”
I cursed to myself. I wasn’t sure what the number was supposed to be, but I knew that was far, far too few.
“We only picked up a few lifepods before that murderer of an Imperial set off the hyperbomb,” Pepper continued. “And we were way too close when it went off. As far as we can tell, no one outside the medical bay survived the radiation blast. The Captain’s dead, Ransom’s dead… Ransom was our shipmind.”
“I’m not sure what that is.”
“You’d have had one too on Fearless. Artificial intelligences that run most of the ship. Querral and human ships use big, fancy computers programmed to be alive. Don’t worry, all this will come back to you.”
Woozy, in their high-visibility jacket, bounded forward towards the camera. “The Kuto don’t use computers for theirs, though! They use brains in jars, like you!”
Pepper glared at them. “Can you not call it a jar, please? It’s a very sophisticated piece of—”
“Yeah, yeah, fancy tech jar. But hey! Now that you’re awake, maybe we can plug you into the ship and you can help us get it working again!”
“Absolutely not!” Pepper exploded. “The Captain has just been through an enormously traumatic experience and is in no condition to take on the duties of a shipmind!”
“Well, we need someone to do the job, and we just used our only brain jar, so… you want to kill ‘em so we can plug someone else in?’”
A word Pepper had said stuck in my ear. Well, electronic ear, but nonetheless. Duties. The duties of a shipmind. That was a concept that I understood, even in my diminished state. A Captain has a duty to their ship and their crew.
“You may need to do exactly that,” I told them, surprising myself. “If a piece of equipment can be used to save the ship, but can’t do it while it’s keeping me alive, then the choice is clear. Better that the seventeen of you make it home without me than none at all.”
“With all due respect, skipper, fuck that.” A third figure pushed themselves into my field of view. This one was human, a young woman in what looked like their mid forties. “You already laid down your life for us once.”
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“Now that just hurts, skipper.” They did their best to sound it, but the laugh at the end gave them away. “Nah, don’t worry, I heard you couldn’t remember some shit. I’m Sam, and I’m your— I was your chief engineer back on the Fearless. And whatever this Woozy says, I say that we can get any Commonwealth Navy ship to fly without an AI, even a querral-made bucket like this one. Not well, but well enough.”
Pepper shot a dirty look to Woozy, then nodded. “That’s good enough for me. I’ve already lost enough people today.”
“But,” I asked further, “our chances will be improved if I can run the ship for you?”
Nods all around.
“Then let’s work out where I need to be before you can plug me in.”