Shipmind Chapter 6
As electricity flowed through the kilometers of functional superconductor that still crisscrossed the ship, it began to wake up. Systems that had lain dormant since the disaster came out of their forced hibernation one by one, eager to inform the shipmind of their capabilities and all too pressing needs, ready to play their part in making the corpse of the CNV King’s Bounty live again.
It was intoxicating.
I could feel the whole ship around me. It wanted, needed to be useful again. And there was so much to do.
I started working on a list of priorities. We’d need life support, of course, so that the crew could work without suits. Drone fabrication for extra hands. The ominously silent hyperdrive would need to be restarted so we could get home. That hull breach would have to be sealed, of course. There were supplies that needed inventory taken. And the food situation needed to be taken care of before it became critical, so I needed to check on hydroponics…
Then suddenly, it all disappeared. I was alone in my tiny tank with the mother of all headaches, and a small but growing feeling of panic. Had the power gone back out? No, the lights were still on.
Then Pepper waved a fiber optic cable in front of my one working camera.
“I warned you not to overdo it.”
Yes, they had, damn it all. “Doctor, I appreciate your concern, but—”
“No buts. You yourself told me you were counting on me to keep you safe. Well, you were about to knock yourself out again by overloading the interface. You officers, you think everything will fall apart if you’re not on top of every detail, but guess what? You fixed the reactor. We’re out of immediate danger. We won’t all die of hypoxia while you get the rest you so desperately need.”
They leaned over and tapped the mic pickup on their desk terminal. “That goes for you four out there too. Get your fuzzy butts back to the medical bay right now so I can check you over.”
It still seemed strange how Pepper could go from Serious Doctor, to bantering with the crew, and back again in a moment. Still…
“You’re completely right, Doctor. I’m sorry. I admit that I got carried away with all the new systems I was getting access to.”
Pepper waved a hand dismissively. “Do you think a newborn AI gets plugged straight into a starship from day one? No, they go through training every bit as intense as you and I do. Only instead of learning medicine, or crew management, they’re learning to balance all these different systems without getting overwhelmed. You are going to have to learn on the job, but you’re going to take it slow, and you’re going to lean on that interface Woozy cooked up for you, do you understand?”
“Just imagine me nodding. I get it. But you do know we are still in a crisis here? The time limit just got pushed way back, but we’re still dead in space, unable to see, move, or communicate. And don’t think I’ve forgotten you mentioning an Imperial.”
Pepper sat down, and leaned back in their chair. “That I did. But trust me, if they were going to come and kill us, we’d be dead by now. I’m pretty sure the hyperbomb got them worse than us. Damn fools. How much do you remember about them?”
Quite a bit more than I had a few hours ago. “The Earth Empire, right?” Pepper nodded and gestured for me to continue. “They’ve been in a cold war with the Commonwealth pretty much since first contact. Or, as our current situation would suggest, sometimes not so cold.”
“Right. They see us as an existential threat. Don’t know if you’ve seen any of their propaganda, but they think we’re slaves to our AIs, and that we’re coming for them next. Hah! Pretty rich coming from people who have a literal Emperor calling the shots.”
Sam walked into the camera’s field of view, helmet under one arm, the rest of their suit still on. “Breaks my heart what’s happened to the old homeworld. Should’ve joined the Commonwealth as equals, not pointed guns.”
“Oh, please,” Pepper grumbled, “you’re no more from Earth than I am. The Diaspora was so long ago that you’re practically a different species by now.”
“So? We might not have had as many gene tweaks as you space weasels, but we all had a common ancestor millions of years ago back on that little planet. As long as it exists, it’ll be special, and it deserves better than the Empire. We’re talking the kind of people who bring a hyperspace inversion bomb to a fleet engagement in what’s supposed to be peacetime.”
I interjected with a question. “That’s the hyperbomb you mentioned before? The term sounds familiar, but… I’m not recalling anything more than that they’re really bad.”
Sam nodded. “Apocalyptically bad. Immediate destruction of everything within a light-hour or so aside, because it works by squashing hyperspace down into real space, you can’t use hyperdrives anywhere one has gone off.”
“Right, that’s starting to sound familiar. The smaller ones can disrupt hyperspace for as little as a year, but the big ones can render it unusable for so long as to effectively be forever. And since interstellar civilization needs faster-than-light travel to even exist, you don’t want to go breaking that except as an absolute last resort.”
“Ever.” Pepper chopped a hand through the air. “I don’t agree that possession of hyperbombs should carry an automatic death penalty. Galaxy’s sake, we’re supposed to be civilized beings, we shouldn’t be executing people for anything. But I do understand why some folks insist that it should still be the one thing that does.”
“Most of the Kuto do,” Sam pointed out. “There’s a reason there’s so few of them left now.”
That sounded ominous. Something else I should already know. I was about to ask, but Pepper cut me off.
“Bah, I shouldn’t have let you drag me into talking politics. I want you both resting now. No manual labour, no deep planning sessions, no politics or religion until you’ve both had a good six hours of sleep.”
“Aye aye, Captain Doc–” Sam started, but cut themself off when Pepper held up a finger. “Fine. Juno, help me out of this fucking thing. Now that basic life support’s working, I need a shower like you wouldn’t believe.”
The look on Juno’s face strongly suggested that they would, in fact, believe.