Shipmind Chapter 12

“First of all,” Pepper began, “you need to understand that I am not a psychologist or neurologist. As ship’s doctor, my role is to keep people going long enough to reach a port with proper medical facilities.”

“I’m not asking for miracles, Doctor,” I said. “Just your best guesses.”

They nodded. “I do necessarily have some training in those fields, because I need to judge whether someone is fit for duty. And, to be blunt, if we weren’t so completely desperate, I would have declared every single one of us unfit and transferred us all to a shoreside facility. I can’t offer you proper therapy, Captain, but I can tell you that you need it, as does everyone else on board.

“That said, here is what I can offer you. Retrograde amnesia is, in all cases, a consequence of some kind of trauma. That can be physical or psychological. Post-traumatic amnesia is a response to physical trauma, and is caused by the literal, physical connections in the brain being broken or damaged. It can quite easily manifest as random, patchy losses of memory, such as you are experiencing. Recovery can be fast, slow, or never come at all, depending on the exact nature of the damage.

“On the other hand, dissociative amnesia is psychological in origin. It can have many causes, but most relevant to us, it’s a known effect of post-traumatic stress disorder. The brain tries to protect itself by blocking out traumatic memories. It’s more common in cases of prolonged trauma, but it has been known to occur for a single traumatic event such as the one we are all still going through.

“Your memory loss could be either of these. Or it could be both. Or it could be a manifestation of an underlying condition triggered by recent events. I’m simply not qualified to make that determination.”

I considered this. “Not the answer I was hoping for, but you did start by saying you couldn’t give me that. It sounds like the most important thing in dealing with it is to get me to an actual specialist back in the Commonwealth.”

“I’m afraid so, Captain. Given how admirably you have coped with the situation thus far, I’m completely confident you’ll be able to return to a normal life following proper treatment. But I can’t tell you what that treatment will need to look like, or whether that life will include the memories you’ve lost.”

“I think the MMI will complicate the “normal” part of that,” I pointed out.

“You’d be surprised. No Kuto has had an organic body for thousands of years, but they’re regarded as pretty well-adjusted. For the most part.”

“Something to think about, at least. I suppose I should consider what kind of body I’ll want when I’m disconnected from the ship.”

“One step at a time, Captain. There’s no need to rush to any decisions.”

“Right. We need to get home first. You mentioned that you don’t really think any of the crew are really fit for duty… is there anything I should be watching for? Warning signs, things like that?”

Pepper sighed. “I’m already seeing them. Woozy was always upbeat, but they’re pretty obviously forcing it now. I’m overworking myself. Sam is getting more and more detached. You keep going quiet and getting lost in thought. We all desperately need a rest and some sit-down time with a counsellor, but we’re not getting it. Not any time soon.

“When someone finally breaks, Captain, and yes, it is when and not if, you and I need to be ready to deal with it.”

We spent a while going over some of the common ways humans and querral could break down under prolonged and acute stress, and how to handle them. For the most part, it meant taking the affected person out of the situation and making them comfortable, or at least as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.

It was remarkably similar for both species, and Pepper confirmed that, when ferrets had been modified to create the first querral, their brains had been heavily based on human ones. While that made a lot of things easier, especially socially, it also meant they shared a lot of the same failure modes.

I was somewhat surprised how much of it I already knew, but it made sense in hindsight. An officer is responsible for the wellbeing of the people under their command, after all, and any officer good enough to rise to the level I had needed to be good at spotting and dealing with problems like stress. The people who had trained me had just never envisioned a scenario as extreme as the one we were now in.

I wondered how a younger officer like Sam would look at it. I had enough memory now to clearly recall that there had been no shipminds when I was a junior officer, so I had never learned to depend on them to monitor everything for me.

Ironically, that probably made me one of the better choices for actually becoming a shipmind, because that constant monitoring was already second nature to me. Who knew, maybe I would stay as a starship after we got home rather than taking an android body like I had been assuming I would.

“You’re doing it again, Captain,” Pepper said. “Getting lost in thought.”

“Sorry, Doctor. I was just imagining what it might be like to continue as a shipmind, rather than giving it up as soon as I can.”

“You actually would not be the first person to do so. And that’s not even counting the Kuto – their ships are all run by MMIs like yours.”

That caused another thought to occur to me. “Is that why you had a Kuto MMI on board to begin with? To allow someone to do that?”

Pepper shrugged. “I don’t know what Woozy had planned for this thing. It’s not exactly standard equipment. But knowing what we now do about their plans with Ransom, I wouldn’t have put it past them.”

“What happened to “Never ask a querral where they found something”?”

“I think we’re a little bit past that old joke now, Captain, don’t you think? Besides. Couldn’t look like I didn’t know what my own crew was up to in front of Sam, even if it was true. Authority is nine tenths appearance.”

I certainly knew the truth of that. Hurricane and I Told You Not To Touch That had rattled me, but I had to start projecting the confidence I wasn’t feeling so that everyone else would feel it.

Tags: shipmind, writing