Shipmind Chapter 7

Sleep is an odd concept when you’re disembodied. Pepper assured me that I still need it, and everything I knew about human biology agreed, but some part of me felt like the life support system in the MMI should be taking care of that for me.

For all I knew, maybe it could. The ferrets never did explain how they got it, but I did know that this wasn’t their technology, and had inferred that they din’t know everything about it. My own memory about what and who the Kuto were remained maddeningly blank.

There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what I could and could not remember. Personal connections and general history remained out of reach, but specific technical knowledge was coming more easily, and I was starting to piece together what some elements of my naval career had looked like.

I wished my executive officer had survived the destruction of the Fearless. Their name had been… Mark, or Marcus, or something like that. I couldn’t check with the interface disconnected. But I remembered that we had been close, true friends even beyond our close working relationship.

The bridge crew had split between two lifepods. Myself in one and my executive officer in the other, per procedure, to maximize the chances of someone from the command crew surviving. The King’s Ransom had picked up my pod, but not the other one. Which I supposed validated the procedure, but didn’t lessen the feeling of having left my friend behind.

They could have told me all about myself. They could have led this crew so much more easily than an overworked doctor out of their depth. They could have told me I did the right thing. They could have been here for me and I for them, because that’s what a captain and their executive officer did, and that’s what friends did.

Instead they’d died for their ship, just as I’d come so close to doing. But I’d only almost died, and now I had to pick up the pieces.

But Pepper was right, I needed to rest. Thinking myself in circles wasn’t helping.

I wasn’t aware of how long I slept for. I or one of the crew had apparently turned off my camera, but I couldn’t have told you which or when. I turned it back on and looked around as much of the medical bay as it would allow. The overhead lights were dimmed down to the same low level the emergency lights had managed before. I could hear someone snoring.

I could see Pepper moving around, checking on people. I pitched my voice synthesizer low. “Someone isn’t taking their own advice, I see.”

“Captain, you’re awake.” Pepper shuffled over, almost silently, and held up a bottle of pills. “Stimulants. Unlike yours, I’m afraid my responsibilities truly can’t wait. A few more hours, when no one is in danger of dying, then I will sleep. Galaxy, that can’t come soon enough.”

“Did we lose anyone else?”

A tired smile. “Headcount is still eighteen, including your good self. We almost lost Barrick. Out of danger now, but they’re probably still going to be in that coma when we hit dock. Can’t be helped, not with the facilities I have here.”

“But they’ll live,” I pressed, sensing the doctor’s need for encouragement. I didn’t want to think about how long they’d been without a break. “The best you can do is the best you can do. I would like to ask you something, though.”

“Fire away.”

“Did you pick up any of the rest of my bridge crew? Anyone else from my pod, or the other one?”

“Sorry, Captain. No one else from your pod made it, and we haven’t identified anyone from your bridge in any of the others we picked up. We… only saved the people from one other pod from the Fearless. Sam’s people from engineering.”

“And that’s six more than we would have had if you hadn’t been here. Seven.”

Pepper looked like they were about to say something to that, then shook their head, apparently changing their mind. “If you feel up to it, I can plug you back into the network. I know you wanted to get back to work.”

I decided it was best to just let the subject rest for now. There was still a lot of loss we both needed to process, but too much for now. There were still eighteen souls aboard that we needed to get home, and soon if we didn’t want that number to go down even further.

“Yes, Doctor, I am feeling up to that. But when you do, I’d like you to work with me to teach the interface what warning signs to look for, so that it’ll stop short of overloading me again. One less thing for you to monitor.”

“You know, Captain, I wish we’d thought of that twelve hours ago, the first time we plugged you in.” That meant I must have slept about seven hours. Not bad. “Let me show you the brain wave patterns I look for.”

The interface proved almost disgustingly easy to teach. Watch for this pattern, if you see it, cut the link, but let me restart it with a mental command. We really should have thought of this earlier, though I supposed we had other priorities on our minds. I’d work on having it adjust signal intensity on the fly later on, so that I could stop short of total disconnection, but that was a good enough start.

With that in place and the link restored, I tentatively started probing the ship’s systems. They all clamoured for my attention, but I quieted them down to focus on the most immediate issues.

Number one. Life support status.

Life support actually looked good. The automatic systems had sealed hatches leading to the breached sections and were slowly refilling the hallways with air. Central recycling hadn’t been damaged, just its backup batteries, so now that the main reactor was back up, the facility was happily cleaning our air and water.

I sent a few mental queries to hatches around the breached sections, closed the ones I could, and tagged the others for engineering attention. We wouldn’t be repressurizing all the hallways yet, but it looked like I could at least get air to the ones around the medical bay and reactor room.

Which led me to number two. Main reactor status.

That also looked good. The reactor had ramped up to nearly a fifth of its rated output over the last seven hours. The monitoring system complained that the warmup was being slowed down by having to power the ship at the same time, but that was what it was. We needed that power.

Still, it did mean that at this rate, we wouldn’t have full power available for a day and a half. That could be a problem if we needed to move. A ship’s engines used more power than everything else aboard combined.

Which led me to number three. External sensors.

Those were in a sorry state. Everything on the side of the ship where the hull had breached was completely blind. The globe that surrounded my mental image of the ship was more than half blacked out. I did have some working sensors on the other side, though. One of the King’s Ransom’s six radar arrays was working, as were three optical telescopes, and one infrared field scanner. The gravity wave detectors were internal systems, and almost half of them were undamaged.

All together, they painted an unsurprising picture. We were adrift in the middle of a vast cloud of miscellaneous debris. Two large chunks were tagged as the probably wrecks of the CNV Hurricane and the CNV I Told You Not To Touch That. Cute name. Had to be another querral ship.

I would have to send over drones to check on those ships once I had more than two available. They looked intact enough to have survivors like us. Infrared showed their radiators were cold, so they didn’t have main power back yet like we did. Possible ticking clock there, I’d have to make sure the drones took extra batteries and life support packs.

That led me to number three. Drone status. That gave me a big, long list of all the ship’s drones that weren’t responding any more, assessed likely destroyed. The only ones working were our trusty maintenance drones, 08 and 09. I tasked 09 with navigating to the last known position of the nearest destroyed drone.

If I was lucky, perhaps the radiation from the hyperspace inversion had just fried its electronics. Drone control was reporting several spare control boards in shielded storage that I was sure Woozy and their people could swap in if the drone was structurally sound.

09’s control software acknowledged the command and slowly set off. It wouldn’t get there as quickly or efficiently as it could if I were piloting it directly, but my attention was needed elsewhere.

Which led me to priority number four. Drone fabrication status.

The fabricator hadn’t fared so well. It would need some love from the engineers before it’d make any more drones for us. I didn’t understand the system well enough to see exactly what was wrong with it, but I didn’t really need to. I simply told 08 to move into position to work on it, then wait for Juno and Woozy.

That was everything I could think of that we immediately needed to effect repairs. I was sure Sam and Woozy would have some other ideas, but as far as I could tell, they were both still sleeping off their earlier repair work.

That just left two personal things I wanted to check on. I swept my vision through the ship, looking through whatever cameras were still working. There were a lot of bodies. Almost all of them ferrets, most of those voidsuited, but the suits hadn’t been enough to save them.

How had Ransom felt, having all these people moving through its hallways? The ship had been very much like its body, even sharing the name. As it felt like it could become mine once I grew into it. It gave me an uneasy feeling, thinking of being filled with so much death. Would it have affected Ransom like that? Was an artificial intelligence even capable of feeling something like that, or would it simply have registered the fact and moved on?

I wasn’t sure. No one had talked about the shipmind much. But I didn’t feel like the lively space weasels would have allowed something as cold and impersonal as that to run their ship, so many aspects of their lives as that ship represented. No, I suspected Ransom would have been more like them, and felt their loss very deeply.

That led me to my other personal inquiry. Status of Shipmind Ransom.

Fragmented log files filled my awareness, but I could get the general gist of what had happened. Ransom had somehow known something was about to happen – like I had when I ordered my crew to lifepods – and had desperately tried to safely shut everything down as quickly as possible.

It hadn’t been able to save itself. The last command from it came milliseconds before the radiation wave hit.

I decided to at least check on the hardware it had run on. Maybe some part of it could be salvaged to help us run the ship, or even restore the old AI in some reduced form. It, at least, wouldn’t need to sleep. They’d called it a “computer programmed to be alive”, and a computer can always be given a new program, after all.

Which is why I was surprised to find that, when I checked the compartment that Ransom’s core hardware had been unsealed, and the hardware physically removed.

Location of shipmind AI hardware, I demanded of the interface.

Shipmind AI hardware currently repurposed as MMI–ship network bridge interface.

“Woozy? Wake up. You and I need to have some words.”

Tags: shipmind, writing