Shipmind Chapter 26

Sam half-slouched in the command chair, calling out the checklist. Pepper had declined to be present for engine restart. It was a formality, but it still stung. However good their reasons, and I had to admit they were some good reasons, my captain and I were not speaking, and the captain/ship relationship is one that is built on trust and communication. If we had been anywhere else, one of us would have had to be relieved. I knew that would have had to be me.

Sam had stepped up, in that very Sam way they did. They were skipping steps and keeping the atmosphere on the bridge breezy, but the important stuff was still happening.

“Okay, that’s everyone,” Sam said. “Punch it, Ransom. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get the fuck out of here.”

No argument from me. I called out my response, and my decks lurched as the gravitics came back on. Hopefully this would be the last time that happened here.

Sam grinned as the ship settled and the displays updated. “Yeah, looking good! I love getting underway, especially when we’re going home. I’m heading back over the the medical bay, got some things to talk about.”

With that, they unstrapped from the chair and moved off down the hallway. I kept the irritation out of my voice as I announced that Juno had the watch, as Sam should have before they left.

Now that I thought about it, Captain Autumn had been a lot more like Sam than, well, me. I’d run the Hammerhead tight, but the King’s Ransom had never been like that. I guessed that the Fearless hadn’t either. Some Commonwealth ships were, but never this one. Yet a lifetime of counting on protocol still told me that we shouldn’t be letting these things slip.

Being two people is confusing.

Over in the medical bay, Sam let themself in. Pepper’s office door was closed, but no barrier physical or social ever stood in Sam’s way. “Hey, Captain Doctor, we need to talk.”

Pepper sighed and pinched their nose. “Sam, please don’t call me that. Both of our captains are dead.”

“Right, but someone’s got to be the boss, boss. And you seemed pretty in charge out there.”

“Doesn’t feel like it from where I’m sitting. I still put that murderer back in control of the ship.”

I considered pointing out that I could hear them, but that didn’t seem like it would help. Where was Sam going with this?

“Well, we’re not dead,” Sam said. “You know as well as I do what the gravitics can do to a crew if mishandled, but here we are, accelerating out of the dead zone.”

Rather than answer that directly, Pepper switched tracks. “How much longer until we’re clear?”

“Not sure. Ransom?”

“I’ve ramped up the drive field,” I said. My gravitics were close to half power, as far as I dared push them with space this badly torn up. “Five days, then we should be able to jump to hyperspace.”

Pepper groaned. “It’s going to be a long week. All right, fine, what is it you two want?”

“Yeah, Sam, what do we want?”

“Well,” Sam said, “we’re three people heavier than we were yesterday. We need to make a decision on what to do about them. Or, rather, you do, Doctor, being acting captain and all.”

“What’s to decide? They’re just as guilty as Erin Gold, and we don’t need them. I plan to let them rot in quarantine until we get home then turn them over to tribunal. What? Did you think I was going to have them shot?”

“Stars, no. If you were the kind of person to do that, you’d have just unplugged Ransom.”

“So where are you going with this?”

“Well, it occurs to me that we’ve got three prisoners of war, and no habitable brig.”

“It’s not going to be, either,” I supplied. “I sent some drones out there as soon as we picked up the pod’s ID. Half the brig currently only exists as monatomic vapour back in the debris field. It’s not coming back without a shipyard.”

“So we’ve got three prisoners of war,” Sam repeated, “and a medical isolation room built for at most two semi-cooperative crew members. Do either of you see the potential for mischief here?”

Pepper drummed their fingers on the desk. “That is a very good point. They tried to kill us once. Our friend here may have had a change of heart, but these three don’t have a Commonwealth officer grafted to their brains. But I’m not going to have them shot. Any ideas?”

“You’re still keeping a few of our own crew in comas,” I pointed out. “Is that an option?”

“Ethically questionable,” Pepper said, “but the biggest problem with that idea is practical. I’m already rationing the drugs I’d need to do that, and we might lose someone before we get home if I spend any more on people who don’t medically need it. No, they’re going to wake up when the doses their pod gave them wear off in three to six hours.”

Sam nodded. “So we’ve got some time. Now the drive’s up, I think I can get my people making that room more secure. But what I was thinking was, we have their old captain have a friendly chat with them. I heard what you said: your oath to the Emperor is fucking toast. If you can do the same to theirs? They won’t even want to stop us getting home.”

Tags: shipmind, writing