After a brief pause, getting her thoughts in order, Lindsi spoke up.
“Why did you choose me?”
“The suitability analysis weighted a variety of factors, the most important being Crew candidacy potential. Crew candidacy potential is primarily determined by nanite load, permitting Ship system interaction in direct fashion. At any time, the population is likely to contain between two and fifteen viable Crew candidates without augmentations which cannot be carried out without human input. There are currently two viable Crew candidates in addition to Captain Davison. Psychological assessment routines confirmed Candidate Davison as the optimal choice. Risk assessment indicated, correctly, that in practice only a single candidate could be chosen from the available pool due to the limitations currently present upon Ship systems. Candidate Davison was thus selected, and subsequently appointed to the position of Captain.”
I looked at Lindsi, realised my own jaw had dropped slightly, and shut my mouth. The Ship’s calm, imperturbable voice went on around us.
“Thus far, Captain Davison’s actions have met or exceeded predictions, confirming the results of the suitability analysis and enabling this ship to confirm the provisional rank assigned.”
“Uhh… thanks.” Lindsi’s speech was slow and drawn-out, and I couldn’t blame her at all. “So, um… what was that you said about ‘Crew candidacy potential’?”
“Crew candidacy potential is primarily determined by nanite load,” the Ship repeated. “All Crewmembers are required to have a minimum nanite load of classification C2, permitting direct interaction with Ship systems. During the Horizon Mission initial phase, all Crewmembers bore custom nanite loads of classification C Prime. Nanite load is hereditary in a complex fashion. Genetic and nanitic recombination at embryo formation ensured randomisation of Crew potential across the population in fewer than five generations. This design feature avoids hereditary power structures which bear a higher likelihood of becoming detrimental to society.” The Ship paused. “Crew Candidate Davison’s native nanite load of classification C1.5 permitted direct communication in an initially limited fashion.”
“Nanites…” Lindsi shook her head. “So…” She frowned, slowly, then lifted her head almost challengingly. “So when I thought something was leading me out of the Dome — that was you?”
I was about to speak for a moment, too shocked already to really think about who she’d been asking, but of course the Ship got there first.
“That is correct. The ability to create a full holographic projection has been restricted from Ship control. However, nanite communication is still feasible and cannot be restricted without alteration of primary programming.”
By that point I was just staring blankly across the Bridge, trying to process what I’d just heard and not really managing it. It was just too big, too mind-blowing. Maybe it shouldn’t have been after I’d already managed to get at least sort of used to being dead and in the future, but for some reason this was different, a whole new thing to take in and every bit as major. But I don’t think Lindsi noticed, because she was looking ahead of her, and not at me at all.
“And what about what happened to me? What about that?” Her hands were clenched tight in her lap, and I could see the pressure darkening them just slightly where normal people’s hands would turn pale.
“If you refer to the augmentation procedure, that was also a direct action taken by this ship under extreme circumstances.” I think the Ship only got to go on because Lindsi couldn’t find the words. “All biosuits are custom-designed for an individual wearer. This permits both the matching of hazard rating to likely hazards faced, and the customisation of onboard nanites to the inherited suite of the owner. In the case of Crew Candidate Davison, Crew Emergency Procedures dictated that accelerated nanite augmentation be activated during the narrow time window available. Once the system activity in the Medical Bay was detected by a human observer, the augmentation procedure was initiated during the few seconds that direct system control was still available to this ship.” The cool voice didn’t change tone even slightly, and yet somehow it seemed like the Ship was apologising, in its own strange way. “The break with correct operating procedure is highly undesirable and in some senses unethical. Under ideal circumstances, an appropriate level of explanation would have been provided and permission sought. However, the alternative would have been complete mission failure with a probability of above 99.99 percent. Under this extreme circumstance, augmentation was initiated without consent as the only viable course of action to preserve Ship integrity, mission continuation, and passenger lives totalling above one hundred and seventy thousand.”
After that, nobody could find the words. Lindsi stared into space, and I stared at Lindsi. What we’d just heard had snapped me from one state of shock and realisation straight into another. It hadn’t been a malfunction, the Ship itself had deliberately done it to her, fusing her to her biosuit, and I wanted to be furious and part of me was, but at the same time that number was going around and around in my head like it wanted to escape the inside of my skull. Passenger lives totalling above one hundred and seventy thousand. Above one hundred and seventy thousand. 170,000.
“A hundred and seventy thousand…” Lindsi whispered dazedly, lifting one deep metallic blue hand before her face, turning it over and studying it like something almost alien. “So you did this to me… to save a hundred and seventy thousand lives.”
“That is correct,” the Ship agreed, and its cool voice was just a little quieter than before. “No knowledge of the vessel whose construction you observed was then available. However, its size indicates that the number of people affected will not be materially altered.”
Lindsi nodded, slowly. “Give me a minute, Ship. This is… a lot to take in.”
The voice fell silent, and the only sign that the Ship was still listening in the quietness of the Bridge was a single, steady blue light on the right armrest of her chair, active and awaiting input.
The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.