Fleet Captain Bobby Birondeau watched the readouts of the starship drive. He was comfortably tucked in his crèche. His senses were virtually linked to the ship system’s AI. There was no feeling like this one, the absolute freedom of being at one with the ship, traveling at interstellar speeds, having access to all of the ships sensors. He almost had an epiphany each time he did this. This was one of the main reasons he was a spacejock. To feel this free was indescribable and unexplainable to those who kept themselves tucked in their own bodies.
To become a Navigator, one had to be able to develop a mind-body balance. A form of enlightenment was fostered; one that came with the realization that one’s self and the self of the world was intrinsically linked. There was something purely metaphysical about this, comparable to the awareness that came with transenlightenment, the point in time when the symbiotic AI’s in his brain and the nanites started functioning together in total harmony with his brain. And then, something that his teacher called his inner eye opened itself to the beauty and complexity of the universe. This state of being was necessary to understand the principles of relativistic drives, to understand some of the more obscure parts of space-time engineering and had other uses in quantum theory.
If Navigators had simply concentrated on their minds and not their bodies, they would not be able to function. The symmetry that was needed for them to guide and pilot spaceships properly made them acutely aware of their bodies. Most Navigators were epitomes of a certain form of combat, dance or art. From AI augmented marital arts to fencing with traditional swords, the choice was endless. He remembered a passage from one of his training volumes, decades ago.
From the Navigator’s manual volume II, a compendium
The exceptional cognitive abilities of memory and perception are the foundations for supra-logical hypothesizing that the Navigators were well known for. Such abilities are naturally heightened by the presence of symbiotic AI’s and nanites working in concert with their enlightened brains. Navigators are able to sift large volumes of data and devise concise analyses in a process that goes far beyond logical deduction: Navigators can extract the essential patterns or logic of data and deliver, with varying degrees of certainty, useful conclusions. These abilities are necessary in order to process the complexities of space-time engineering, quantum theory, ρ-brane theory and other advanced theoretical sciences.
His nuts had gotten all hard and uncomfortable. It wasn’t that he was aroused or anything, it was just the feeling he got whenever he left the angelnets of the fleet. If anything happened, he would just cease to exist; he couldn’t even upload his consciousness to an AI server, he would be stuck in the matter of his body, left to die in the coldness and vastness of space. This was a terrifying thought for him, but one he had gotten used to over the decades.
The starship drive also seemed a paradox for most of fleet officers and engineers. Rare where those who understood the theoretical implications of relativistic travel. The drives enabled interstellar travel. They provided acceleration without requiring any reactant mass. In fact, these drives would have never been developed without the aid of robots and AI’s. The starship drive was one of the first applications of picotechnology, a mostly theoretical field of study that was the culmination of nanotechnology and quantum theory. Picotechnology worked on the scale of a picometer, one trillionth of a meter (ten to the power of minus twelve, 1E-12). To understand the drive, one had to understand certain elements of space-time engineering, a new field of study that combined picotechnology with ultra-dense matter principles and AI türings. The quantum assemblers needed to produce starship drives had taken almost a century of R&D before giving practical applications. The drive didn’t push the ships past the speed of light, but brought them very close to it.
Time-debt was the most nefarious side-effect of starship travel. Humans who traveled a lot would rapidly loose all connection to their home planets due to rapidly accruing time-debt. This was the consequence of relativistic speeds; time was experienced slower for them to compensate for the speeds at which they traveled. He had heard stories of fleet officers returning home after a few years of working, only to learn that their wives were long dead, as where their children and their children’s children. It made joining the fleet a life altering decision. Visit the stars and visit other times by the way of time-debt.
He didn’t presume to understand all of the technology, but he had to be well versed with most of it in order to become Navigator Grade IV. And without symbiotic AI’s and nanites in his brain, he wouldn’t be able to do anything needed to be a spacejock.
As usual, R. Gul Jok was his constant companion on the command deck. The humaniform robot was at his post, monitoring different aspects of the starship drive and the surrounding space. Traveling at relativistic speeds made the ships and travelers somewhat blind to what was going on outside, since they so close to the speed of light. R. Gul had been on board since the initial commission of the Nautilus, a few decades ago. Like all humaniforms, he was on the job most of the time, having down time only when the full crew were at their posts.
The tactical mission briefing they had completed before leaving spacedock included a plan to go to relativistic speeds for a short while and come out as close as possible to the asteroid field, then proceed with a smaller stealth craft to extract their objective. Their target was an obscure asteroid in the Horsehead nebula, near Orionis. Since it was located in an asteroid field, it made the mission even more dangerous. Enemy craft, mines and booby traps could be easily located around the asteroid in question without them being none the wiser. A full out assault was out of the question, since their objective would be jeopardized in such a ploy.
Why he’d gotten drafted into this mess, he’d never know. Probably someone had mentioned his name to someone else and the fleet special ops grapevine did the rest, trickling down to the high ranking civilians. Didn’t they have enough compartmentalization and classification of their missions? It looked like a cockamamie cluster fuck and his team was needed to clean it up.
What he did know was that it involved a girl and some pirates. Now, how ridiculous was that thought?
Allegedly, a band of cyborged pirates had kidnapped M Laskia Nostrum, daughter of deputy-minister Nostrum of Sirius Major, from her luxury liner that was in transit between neighboring systems. From what he had deduced, she was traveling to one of the more obscure pleasure planets in the system. Pleasure planets were terraformed to be paradises, where you could indulge in any form of pleasure or vice, without repercussions. Pleasure planets were populated with creatures whose only job was to make your stay the most pleasurable possible. Nordia, the one M Nostrum was heading to, was one of the more extreme ones; one of those whose dark side was better known that it’s good side. Fun in the sun during the day; stripped, hung-up by hooks in your skin and flogged with a neurowhip by night. Needless to say that full membership to one of these planets came at an extreme price. He wondered how a deputy-minister’s daughter could afford those kinds of credits.
The deputy-minister had received an astronomic ransom demand including some grotesque footage of his daughter being tortured/ pleasured by devices and men. The details were not given to him, which was also weird, since the details normally revealed a lot of things to Navigators. For the Captain, this all seemed a bit much. It seemed made-up. Just too perfect a lure. She seemed like bait, a funnel to access the deputy-minister. To go to such extremes to kidnap such a minor personage seemed ludicrous. The costs involved had to be horrendous. Attacking a liner in transit, boarding it, securing it, extracting the daughter. Why was the deputy-minister so important?
It’s not like he had a choice, he was in the fleet and he had to follow the orders of his commander. Fleet Admiral Joonsk had personally given the briefing. That was even stranger, since he normally received all his missions from his immediate commander, Major Leftbridge. The chain of command was usually kept intact in order to compartmentalize and classify the missions adequately.
The Nautilus was in transit. Bobby Birondeau had decided to stay in his command crèche, instead of retiring into his reefer coffin for the duration of this short trip; refersleep was hell on your senses and waking up from it took a long time. Cyborged pirates could still be a dangerous lot, depending on the level of their cybernetics. If they had the latest upgrades and implants, a band of them would be trouble for his crew. Cybernetic implants varied from system to system, but the latest bioroids and borgs could be a handful. Enhanced cognitive reflexes, strength and awareness, nano-cybernetic limbs, armored skin and reinforced skeletons, powered armors and the latest beam and explosive armaments could be quite lethal. Most of the grunts would be subjugated virally (time-death virii) and technologically (remote neuronic pain inducers, techno-brainwashing, bio restrictor fields) by their leader, making them ideal suicide commandos.
And since it seemed that they had access to a lot of credits to finance this mission, these pirates would be very dangerous. Thankfully, he had his backups online as well as the latest equipment for his men. Though equipment rarely made the difference, it was still a tactical advantage to be funded by the fleet. No one knew they were coming and the Nautilus was one of the quieter ships in the fleet and one of the smallest equipped with a starship drive. It had a cloaking and camouflage field and was just a few hundred meters in length. Some capital ships were over ten kilometers in length, veritable mobile worlds. These so called world ships patrolled the hegemony, mostly ferrying travelers around systems and keeping the peace in some of the provinces. He would have to leave the security of his crèche and go with his team, to ensure success.
“Captain, we are have started decelerating, we should be at our deployment point within a few hours.” toned Jessica in a sensual voice, the ship’s AI. For some reason, most AI’s on space ships used female voices. It was a tradition that dated back to ancient history.
“All systems optimal, Captain.” said R.Gul.
“Start heating up the reefer coffins Gul, it’s time to wake-up the crew and get ready for deployment. I have a feeling that this mission will be hairy, better make sure everybody is packing enough heat for the job.” commanded the Captain.
* * * * *
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