Shipmind Chapter 5

I opened my eyes and stretched. Maintenance Drone 08 retracted the protective covers over its optical pickups and ran a quick self-test on its actuators. This was it! I had a body again. True, very different to the body I was used to, but after three hours as a disembodied brain in a jar, being able to operate a drone like this felt like precious freedom.

Not that it was truly anything of the sort, but it was the closest I was going to come.

In the medical bay next to my actual self, the white-haired drone operator Juno announced, “Maintenance drone zero nine online. I have control.”

Ah. Protocol. I followed suit. “Maintenance drone zero eight online. I have control. All right, Woozy, you’re the expert here. Talk us through this.”

Moving the drone felt as natural as if I’d been doing it all my life. The interface must be doing a lot of heavy lifting. I knew it couldn’t be this easy for everyone, or we wouldn’t need specialists like Juno. Once the ship was up and running again, it would be good to see if we could copy some parts of the MMI, maybe make them a bit less invasive, to allow this for more people.

But that would have to wait. Right now, our plan was to use the beetle-like maintenance drones to disconnect some of their own control system’s batteries, move them through the dead hallways of the King’s Ransom to the main fusion reactor, and give it a jumpstart.

Then we could recharge our emergency life support systems and not die in sixteen hours.

Sam and Woozy were out in voidsuits checking the reactor itself over. It seemed to be in good shape from what they’d been telling us over the radio, though that didn’t really surprise me. At the heart of every starship were two components that were sealed and armoured above all else: the main fusion reactor, and the hyperdrive. As long as a starship has both of those, it can fly, and a ship that can fly can reach help. Even main life support, the command bridge, and the medical bay weren’t afforded such protection.

I could tell through the interface that Woozy was projecting our drones’ camera feeds onto a wall in the reactor compartment where they were working. Under their guidance, Juno and I found the chemical cells in the best physical condition, disconnected them one by one, and stowed them on the drones’ cargo racks.

Each disconnection produced a nagging warning on the edge of my awareness, an intrusive thought coming through the interface. Warning, primary drone control battery capacity at ninety percent. Warning, primary drone control battery capacity at eighty percent. It was almost soothing despite its urgent tone, as it told me we were making progress.

“I’m done with my cells. How are you doing, skipper?”

I cursed silently. I’d let myself get distracted. “Just disconnecting my last one now. Can you help me stow it on the rack?”

“No problem, skip. One sec.”

Sam piped up over the radio. “Bloody hell, you two are fast.”

Juno grinned at their terminal. “Helps to have the right hardware, chief.”

“Yeah, yeah, you operators and your toys. Just don’t forget about us little people next time you need one fixed. Now, here’s a wild thought, why don’t you get that hardware over here. You can help me disconnect the dead ones.”

“But I know how much you love working in voidsuit gloves, chief. Why would I deprive you of that pleasure?”

“Hey, Woozy, Juno just volunteered to help me de-suit when we get back to medbay. Wasn’t that nice of them, considering how much they hate how sweaty these things get? And especially since we can’t spare the life support to run the showers.”

“Ouch. You win.”

I’d have smiled if I could. My people worked well together. And they really were starting to feel like my people again. There still wasn’t any personal connection from before my abrupt change of circumstance, but that wasn’t stopping me forming new ones.

“All right, Juno,” I put in at that break in the banter, “I have the deck plan up here, so I’ve got lead.”

“Copy, skipper, zero eight has lead.”

I rattled off the route we were going to take to the reactor room, following the bright line across the deck plan in my mind’s eye. We’d be crossing the hull breach, but the drones were built to work just as well outside the ship as inside.

After Juno confirmed the route, I retracted my legs and brought my zero-g maneuvering jets online. With the ship’s artificial gravity gone, the legs would just slow us down.

With a delicate puff of gas from a rather unfortunate place on the drone’s body, I sailed off down the dark corridor, my floodlights showing the way ahead. My EVA training hung in the back of my mind, purely my own, not something I’d got from the interface.

Gentle movements, slow and smooth. Don’t correct small drifts if they won’t result in problems, conserve reaction mass. Never lose sight of your nearest anchor point in case your jets fail. I’d lived these rules every time I put a voidsuit on.

It took barely fifteen minutes to reach the reactor room. Very good progress considering how many inaccessible sections we had to route around. Someone’s helmet light was visible through the open hatchway as we approached the reactor room.

Ah, no, that wasn’t a helmet light, that was the camera feed Woozy was projecting. I angled my cameras towards the projection as we came in the door, creating a nice hall-of-mirrors effect for a moment before I came to a stop.

“Augh, don’t do that!” Sam yelled over the radio. They must have been watching on their helmet’s heads-up display, because I couldn’t see them here in the reactor room.

“Oh, I’m sorry, were you watching my camera instead of doing your own work, Sam?” That little jab seemed like the best way to handle my acerbic chief engineer, considering the way they acted towards everyone else.

“Yeah, yeah. Should’ve let Pepper keep me in medbay.”

Pepper flowed over to Juno’s terminal and barked a laugh at the microphone pickup. “Oh, really? Was that an admission?”

“Yes, Doctor, you did in fact tell me so.” I suppressed a chuckle at Sam echoing my earlier words.

“So come on, where do you need these things?” Juno asked.

Woozy waved us over, through into the next compartment where Sam and another voidsuited figure were working on the battery bank. Who was that? Obviously a querral from the body shape, but I couldn’t see their face from this angle.

Ah, Frill, the interface supplied. They must have stayed out here to help rather than coming back to the medical bay after running the cable patch. That probably meant Len was around here somewhere too, since I didn’t recall them coming back either, now that I thought about it.

Oh, but of course, I could just check, couldn’t I? I was plugged right into the network tracking all the suit sensors. Yes, Len was in the control room, what would have been one deck up had the gravity been on. A quick glance at their helmet camera showed them looking back and forth between a paper manual (one kept with every piece of equipment, in case of computer failure) and the lifeless control console, setting all the manual control switches to where they’d need to be for startup if my automatic command failed.

I hoped Woozy was going to check their work. I wasn’t sure I trusted a cook to start a nuclear reactor. Cooking and nuclear physics are quite different disciplines, though as I understood it, they could be very similar in terms of complexity when you were leading a team cooking for a crew of hundreds.

Still, none of that was going to happen without some electricity to jumpstart the reactor, and that was what the batteries were for. Juno and I unloaded those and connected them up under Woozy’s direction, and I repeated every notification as they came through the interface: main reactor control battery power at ten percent, twenty…

That was good. It felt like this was going to work. Galaxy bless those Navy designers who made all the parts on these ships interchangeable.

The first and most obvious sign of progress was when the emergency lights in the compartment came on, and everyone turned off their personal lights. Then the computer consoles came to life. Then, finally, Len called down from the control room.

“Console reports ready for startup.”

Woozy nodded. “Captain, if you’d do the honours?”

I nodded my drone’s head in turn, then sent the mental command. Start main reactor.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then some green lights on a panel turned red and started flashing, and that intrusive voice told me that the batteries were experiencing high power drain.

Explain power drain, I demanded of the interface.

Oh. That was fine. The mighty array of superconductive magnets that kept the fusion reaction contained were charging up, forming a sealed bubble from which the tiny artificial star we would soon be creating could not escape.

Pumps started to turn. Heaters warmed up. The charge in those heavy batteries dropped like a stone.

Then I heard it. Coming from my microphone all the way back over in the medical bay, a low hum coming up through the deck plates. Everyone who’d ever worked on a starship knew that hum, usually more felt than heard.

General address, all crew. The interface obligingly connected my voice synthesizer to the suit radios and the overhead speakers. Just another moment, to get the timing right…

“Friends, gentlefolk, fellow crew of the King’s Ransom. This is your shipmind speaking. We have main power.”

And with my final word, the emergency lights all cut out as one as the main overheads blazed the dark ship back into life.

The medical bay erupted into cheers.

Tags: shipmind, writing