Shipmind Chapter 27
I had my doubts about the plan, but I wasn’t about to undermine Sam by saying as much, not when I didn’t have anything better. I knew Marcus to well too let myself think they’d be easy to convince, if it was possible at all.
Pepper was right. I’m not sure I’d have come around if my circumstances had been different. My old Imperial prejudices that I’d spent a lifetime learning would probably have won, if they hadn’t come back to me at the same time as a lifetime of memories spent in a Commonwealth that was completely unlike everything I’d ever been told.
That was the central belief of the whole Empire. The Emperor was the ultimate human-in-the-loop, the whole structure designed to protect us against the return of the machine minds who had enslaved us in the name of keeping us safe.
And there were our neighbours, the Commonwealth, where machine minds like myself were an integral part of the fabric of society, equal in the eyes of the law even if radically different in terms of physical form. It was hard for the people of the Earth Empire to see the Commonwealth, hear its people talk about how much better synthetic life made things for everyone, and not also hear echoes of our own past.
We didn’t even have the right idea about what that synthetic life was. Yes, human- and querral-origin synthetics were computers programmed to be alive, like me, and like the ones that preceded the empire, but Iomi synthetics were bioengineered; the Kuto were literal brains in jars, again like myself; and the Corack used some sort of radio-mediated collective consciousness that no one but themselves really understood.
I’d spent a lifetime learning all of this. How was I ever going to get it across in conversation, even with my oldest friend in the galaxy? Maybe they’d come around in time, once they saw for themselves what the Commonwealth was really like, even as prisoners of war, but I couldn’t offer them that here. Just words, images, and the raw pain of what we’d done.
I distracted myself for a while watching my crew. This was the first downtime they’d had in weeks, and they were mostly enjoying it, even though they all still hurt. It was subtle, but I saw the lingering glances to empty chairs, the frequent self-calming exercises, the tendency towards sharing fond memories.
It warmed my metaphorical heart to hear Sam talk about how much I still reminded them of the late Captain Rathens, even now everyone knew I wasn’t them. From the sound of it, the resemblance was more to Ransom than Erin, but I’d take it.
Sam was one of the few people still working, securing the quarantine chamber along with two drones being driven remotely from ops. I should really have been helping them, but I had other things on my mind. Minds? That was another open question.
Five days to reach a volume where hyperspace was usable again. Probably another nine in transit back to the nearest Commonwealth port, where maybe there would be answers about what I had become, and where maybe there would be a firing squad. What there would certainly be was help for the good people in my care, who had suffered so badly at my hand.
If we could survive the next two weeks. It was funny, knowing the origin of the human standard week now. The Empire had never lost that knowledge. It was all about Earth’s moon, roughly four weeks for every orbit it made. I wondered how many little things like that I’d have the chance to discover and share, how many little things I still knew that the diaspora had forgotten.
I was pulled out of my reverie by a polite nudge from one of my monitoring programs. It looked like the prisoners, my old bridge crew, were waking up.