Shipmind Chapter 14

“Woozy, I’m not—”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” the normally cheerful ferret snapped at me, then stalked out of the room.

No, I supposed they weren’t.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this new information. I already knew the interface that was letting me control the ship was built from Ransom’s old hardware. It made sense that it would be drawing on some echo of their memories of how to do those things. But now it seemed like some of those echoes were passing the other way, and I was starting to remember things someone else had experienced.

At the same time, I was recalling very little of my time aboard the Fearless, and not much more from before that, except in the most general terms.

I really needed to talk to an expert about this, assuming anyone anywhere had ever dealt with a situation like mine before, but Pepper had already outright stated that they were not that expert, and they were the most qualified of anyone aboard.

I brought my awareness back over to the cameras in the medical bay. Pepper was busy talking to Crow, the comms officer, who seemed a lot more alert now. It’d be good to have an extra pair of hands and eyes soon, but for now they were both busy.

Juno was sitting at the desk terminal, watching Onesy’s camera feed and following its position on the deck map. The drone operator in need of a drone.

Wait. If they were watching the feed…

“I’m guessing you heard that?” I asked them.

Juno startled in their chair, as though I’d just caught them at something. “Uh. Heard what, Captain?”

Oh, yes, Juno had heard us. But I couldn’t blame them for not wanting any of this on them. Well, I wasn’t going to force anything.

“We’re going to be putting new control boards in the disabled maintenance drones.”

Juno visibly relaxed. “Ah. Yes, skipper, I did catch that. I’m guessing you want me to do a function check as they rejoin the network?”

“That, yes, but I also want you to help with the repairs themselves. You’re more used to juggling multiple drones than I am, so as we have more come online, I’ll need your help coordinating them.”

Juno looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded to themselves. “Can do, skipper. But since we’re both stuck waiting for zero one to get in position, how about I give you a crash course in multiple drone management?”

That sounded very useful. I didn’t want the interface overloading and cutting my connection.

As Juno spoke, holding the practiced tone of someone who had trained drone operators before, I started to see something that I had never appreciated before: drone operators actually had two distinct but complementary sets of responsibilities.

The first and most obvious set involved directly controlling individual drones, providing the experience and decision making skills that only a sapient mind could provide, and that the built-in controls necessarily lacked. Drones were just drones, after all. Juno and I had exercised those skills together in using 08 and 09 to install batteries in the reactor room.

The second set of responsibilities, and the skills I still needed to learn, came in monitoring and coordinating larger groups of drones, which Juno lovingly called “flocks”. In many ways, a flock of drones on their way somewhere could be treated as a single unit, only requiring individual attention when they arrived and started working.

“Even then,” Juno explained, “you can let the standard pattern libraries handle a lot of common operations. Remember the command I told you to use for cutting through the hatch on the other wreck?”

I’d been trying not to think about the I Told You Not To Touch That, but I did recall that.

“Right, so a big part of it is just issuing those commands. You only jump in and take direct control when they hit something they can’t handle, or if the job is so critical you can’t risk the automatic decision tree going down the wrong path because it doesn’t know something you do.”

“Like the job with the batteries.”

“Exactly. A job like that, you do yourself because you’re more reliable than the automatic systems in a crisis.”

I wasn’t so sure about that, but I let Juno continue. The point was that a drone operator was both a driver and a coordinator, and knowing when to switch between those roles was a big part of their training. Now it was becoming a part of mine.

Even before this crisis, that was something I had always loved about the Navy. There was always something new you could learn to be more effective. I had been less fond of managing training schedules in my days as executive officer aboard the… what had the ship’s name been?

I was vaguely aware that I had done two tours as an XO before being promoted to Captain, both on the same ship, and that it had been a long time ago. But at that moment, it felt more like I remembered reading about it having happened than actually being there.

I was also starting to recall that Commonwealth Navy ships didn’t have true executive officers any more, at least not as I’d known the role back then. The position obviously still existed, as Fearless’s executive officer was one of the few people I could remember, but shipminds took care of a lot of the work that I had done myself all those years ago.

I let my thoughts linger on Marcus for a moment. The last time I had seen them, would ever see them, as I ordered them to the lifepod that would fail to save them.

No. Juno was still talking, I should be paying attention to that. And when had Frill come over? The network specialist was asking some good questions, though.

“So the drones coordinate with each other within a flock?”

“To some extent, yes. They’ll stay together as a group when navigating, and there are a few standard template instructions that allow two or more drones to coordinate. Hold this still while I work on it, that sort of thing. But most of the actual coordination is between operators.”

“You’ll be in charge of that, Juno,” I interjected. “Any time we’re working together on the drones, I want you calling the shots. I may have the rank, but you have the experience, and I don’t want you hesitating to tell me what to do if you need to.”

Juno laughed at that. Puzzled, I asked what was so funny. “Living stars, Captain, I never thought I’d see the day when a senior officer actually ordered one of their noncoms to make the officer listen to them.”

“My memory might not be what it used to be,” I said, “but I’ve been playing the officer game long enough to know when to defer to someone nominally under my command. Especially the non-commissioned specialists like yourself. When we’re driving drones is one of those times.”

“Do you think you can teach Sam that? Or is two miracles in one day too much to ask?”

“I intend to get us home,” I said. “Together, we’ll produce as many miracles as that requires.”

Tags: shipmind, writing