Shipmind Chapter 11

I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic as 08 approached the Hurricane. It was pretty clear the wreck was in bad shape, seemingly having suffered an internal explosion that became very rapidly external through the ship’s bow.

Hurricane was a human-built ship. The network didn’t have deck plans, so I racked my brain trying to recall the basic layout of the Fearless. It was so strange the things I was still blanking on. I’d have to ask Pepper if it was normal for traumatic amnesia or whatever this was.

Deciding I wasn’t going to have much luck with that, I started from first principles. The reactor and hyperdrive always sit at the core of the ship, usually with the reactor forward, to be closer to the gravitic array on the bow, and the hyperdrive aft. That would make this damage consistent with a catastrophic reactor breach.

That ruled out any survivors restoring main power, ever, but it didn’t rule out their survival in the other shielded compartments.

I radioed the ship’s network and was again unsurprised to receive no response. The hyperbomb had fried nearly every external antenna on the King’s Ransom, and I saw nothing to suggest the Hurricane had fared any better.

I directed 08 into the crater of a hull breach, and located a junction box. Off came the cover, and the glowing red light told me that its tiny internal cell was providing local power. That was good. I might be able to tap into the ship’s network here.

08 plugged its cable into the access port. It seemed I was in luck. The network still had emergency power, if barely, but it accepted my assurance that I was the search and rescue party.

As I suspected, the reactor and everything forward of it were just gone, the hyperdrive was dead, and most of the ship was in vacuum. I queried the shielded sections, and felt my spirits lift as it reported that the bridge was intact and still had emergency power. I tried to contact anyone still alive in there, but the network reported no response.

Their communication system must be as damaged as ours was. At least, I hoped that’s all it was.

I moved 08 further in through the corridors, popping manual overrides on hatches as they blocked my way. The radiation meter reported that there was still a dangerously high level of the stuff here, far more than on the King’s Ransom. Odd, considering the Hurricane had been further from the bomb.

The bridge proved quite easy to find. I simply followed the painted line on the floor labelled “Bridge”. The telltale next to the hatch showed green, good pressure on the other side. I relayed the good news to Sam with some excitement as 08 popped its portable airlock kit and fixed it around the bridge hatchway.

The airlock’s frame clicked into place, and the smartmatter flowed closed behind 08 to create a seal. Its internal tank discharged, and the gauge showed good pressure. I opened the hatch to find the emergency lights on inside.

The whole bridge crew were there, still at their posts, shipsuit helmets clipped to their belts, ready for use at a moment’s notice. Right where they had been when they died.

08 scuttled around the bridge, taking in all the status displays on the still-lit consoles. They had a slightly different configuration than we’d used on my old ship – one ship must have been significantly newer than the other – but it wasn’t difficult to find everything.

The screens told me what I needed to know. The last time anyone had updated anything, the ship had been at crash transit stations, ready for an emergency exit from hyperspace. They hadn’t been fast enough. Hurricane had been in hyperspace when the bomb turned it inside out, and unceremoniously dumped into normal space in a flash of hard radiation. The burns on the bridge crew’s skin were painfully obvious.

I took what comfort I could from knowing that they had died instantly, never knowing what had hit them.

I spared a moment to look at the body of the captain, still strapped to their command chair. This would have been a friend of mine, I knew. We were both captains, assigned to the same fleet. There weren’t that many senior officers in the Navy, not really. I’d have known this person, possibly quite well. But their name escaped me and their face was beyond recognition.

Once the King’s Ransom got home, reported what had happened here, and that we were quite possibly now at war with the Earth Empire, someone would be sent out to reclaim our dead. Eventually. It might take a while, if we had a war to fight, but it was only right. We don’t leave our people behind.

Except now I would have to do just that. We couldn’t save them, and we couldn’t spare the resources to haul their bodies over to the King’s Ransom. All we could do was carry their memory.

In that moment, I hated the Imperials. I don’t know that I ever truly hated anything before. But they had knowingly used a weapon that would do this, not just to a ship but to an entire fleet. Killing almost everyone and leaving the rest trapped.

This was beyond what would happen in a conventional engagement. I was sure I’d never fought a true battle, but the training was there. Every ship involved would churn out thousands of weapons drones, using the fabricators and materials bunkers every Navy ship had, all trying to force their way past each other. Anti-ship drones, anti-drone drones, counter-anti-drone drones… all making the volume of space between the two forces completely unsafe for anything to exist in.

And then when one side had the upper hand, the other would withdraw into hyperspace where combat was impossible, or at least impractical, and be gone. Or, if they were too slow, a single anti-ship drone would turn them into vapour, no time to suffer or regret.

This was different. The hyperbomb took away the escape option, turned it into death itself. Either quick if you happened to be there at the time, or slow if you were caught in the radiation burst in normal space, somehow survived, and waited for your blasted ship to slowly fail.

We shouldn’t have survived what happened here. We had been lucky beyond words, beyond belief.

So yes. I hated the Imperials for this. For designing a ship to deploy such a weapon. For having commanders who would order its use. For having sailors who would follow that order. If that commander had somehow survived setting this nightmare bomb off, I would dearly have liked to find them and kill them with my own hands. If they hadn’t taken even those hands from me.

“Hurricane is a bust,” I reported. “They got caught in hyperspace when the bomb went off. The crew are dead and the equipment is too irradiated to safely salvage in the time we have.”

“When you bring zero eight back,” Sam said, flat tone all business, “have it wait outside until we can check it. Should be fine, but I want to make sure it hasn’t picked up too much irradiation from the Hurricane. We might have to leave it behind.”

I acknowledged and started bringing 08 home.

Pepper was right. The Imperial commander had been nothing more than a murderer.

Tags: shipmind, writing