Fleet Captain Bobby Birondeau stood on the command deck awaiting his crew. For such a relatively large craft, it seemed ludicrous that it was staffed by only a handful of crew. But those were how the things stood. They were five posts on board. Six if you counted R Gul. No more. But that was enough. And you had to count the humaniform, there was no two ways about it. Sometimes, they frightened him, the machines. The crew quarters were quite Spartan and minimalist: everything had a purpose and function aboard a starship, no space could be wasted. They did spend most of their time sleeping the decades away in reefer coffins. Commander Euclid would stay onboard with R Gul if they needed backup.
[Ed. note: Some images of art contained in this post might be unsuitable for younger readers.]
As he monitored the awakening of his crew, he awaited them in the captain’s lounge. He felt their minds link up to the local net of the ship. Even if Bobby wasn’t a telepath, he could feel through his mind and body his crew. With his symbiotic AI, he could set up a local allweb node and pipe all communications between him and the crew through there. They would act almost like a group mind. He could also link up the ship’s AI to monitor the decisions so that they would be instantaneously carried out. A ship like the Nautilus only had one Stage I AI on board, but the world ships could have as many as twenty, ruling the ship’s systems in a mock democracy to suit the purposes of the fleet. It stopped them from thinking they were omniscient. The only thing that stopped some of the processing power of the posthuman brain was heat. They needed to dissipate heat from all the work that was done in their craniums.
The whole command deck had a sterile feel to it, same as the rest of the ship. The Nautilus always maintained some form of quarantine protocol in case of smart plague attack. This had happened during the wars, where a million plagues were invented to kill billions on hundreds of different planets. He took the opportunity to take out one of those autolighting smokeless mini menthols from his pocket. They tasted like shit, but he wanted the focus that came with the slight meta-nicotine rush.
Lieutenant Kobayashi was the first one in. The red haired giant was followed closely by Lt Urnu, a lithe Asiatic female. Lieutenants Hitchcock and Orca came out last. He heard Commander Euclid take up the rear with his audible footfalls. He looked at them, his crew of the last few centuries. A rag tag team of experts assembled to take on the dirtiest of assignments. Like all posts, they barely looked alike. Kobayashi was three meters high and almost two meters in width. He was a Titanomachiae. He was a giant of a man, blistering with implants and bioware underneath his skin, his ancestors had tailored their genotype to become half giants of old. Bobby Birondeau always felt dwarfed by him, but he was a most reliable officer. Glancing at him, you could see some of the unnatural muscles that were flexing underneath. He could hear the quadruple hearts of the brute sending hyper-oxygenated blood towards his extremities.
Urnu was pale as some of the walls of the Nautilus. As with Kobayashi, he knew that there was more than met the eye. Her eyes were white as well. Other than that, she was the only female on board and one of the most attractive women Bobby had ever known. I haven’t yet managed to shag her, but I will at some point.
The improvements that were standard were well known to him, but the individual tailoring that each of the posts went through were rarely discussed, but with the closest of friends. It took decades or centuries before such talk was tolerated and accepted. The air of mystery made him want to spent elaborate amounts of time computing possibilities or cajoling the information from his comrades. Hitchcock was most distinctive as he came from a planet where his posts ancestors had opted to make their skin blue. He looked like the extrapolation of a baseline Nubian tribesman of Africa, reinvented as a modern day post. And Orca had an apt name, since his mouth had been either modified or engineered to be very wide and was populated with a large array of razor sharp hyperdiamond teeth. His nose was almost erased, and his eyes were slits. If you focused on them, you’d notice that his irises were double slit and that he had secondary nictating eyelids. Bobby had guessed correctly over the years that he came from an aquatic based planet. This was confirmed once by Orca over meta-alcoholic intoxication, that he came from the planet Atlantia, a planet covered by a planet-wide ocean. Bobby knew that most of Orca’s features would only reveal themselves if he was submerged in water. And that had yet to happen.
Commander Euclid was something else altogether. On the surface, he seemed like just another artificial construct, with machinery glistening underneath his clothes. This wasn’t the case. At some point in time, by choice or by necessity, Euclid had transplanted his brainstem into a machine. He was what they called a full cybernetic conversion. He only had two bodies to choose from on the Nautilus. The other one was in the armory. For now, he had chosen his most common body, a humanoid shaped body with double jointed joints. His face was composed of what looked like a metal visor, but what Bobby knew was a very sophisticated sensor, giving him far more inputs that normal posts. Glistening antennas and extensions were visible behind the dome of his cranium. This had also enabled Euclid to modify his brain functions far more than most posts. Bobby knew for a fact that Euclid had slaved four AIs to his main symbiotic AI to augment processing power. He also had an almost eerie affinity with machines. Heat diffusion devices glistened around his cranium, which was super cooled. He used his legs most of the time, but that was just to make everyone at ease; with the micro gravitic engines that laced his body, he could have easily flown/floated anywhere he wanted. In itself, Bobby wondered what the implications would be if part of Euclid crashed or was destroyed. Would he be able to save his consciousness via the angelnets of the fleet? Not that it mattered that they were out of range of them, but the thought was interesting enough. Maybe he made periodic backups like the Corp sultans.
Euclid had never made it clear how old he was. In Bobby’s line of reasoning, Euclid must have been quite old to consider this radical transformation. Or quite adventurous, because even if full conversions were possible, there weren’t a lot of posts who opted for them. That is, to his knowledge anyway. Maybe the fleet had a lot of officers that had become full conversions. He had heard about certain Corp sultan’s opting for humaniform conversions after their bodies had failed them to grant themselves a certain form of postmortality. He wasn’t sure if that was for him. I like to feel too much to become that much of a machine. Then again, this was his fifth body and he hadn’t had any problems with that.
If the cyborged pirates were simply baseline humans cybernetically enhanced, they would still be a problem. He was taught by his teachers to expect the unexpected. That was easily said but hardly done. The possibilities were too many to compute. He needed to reduce the variables to be able to extrapolate more data. The fact that the pirates had so much funding gave him shivers, because who knew what they had on that asteroid? Crystal raptors, battle mechs, battle droids, crystalline kaleidoscopic mazes? Who knew? For the moment, it seemed idle to speculate. Prepare for the worst, that is what he always did and that is what they would do today.
Everyone took a seat in a comfortable crèche to warm themselves up after the years of refer sleep. All of them except Euclid were drinking a chocolaty nano drink, to help them clean up the biotoxins that had accumulated in them and to maintain the machinery inside of them.
“Fuck me in the ass with a fuckbot!” Grunted Orca “This doesn’t get any easier, does it?”
A grunt of acknowledgement came from Kobayashi. Fuckbots were slang for robotic pleasure dolls.
As went with tradition, they spoke their minds. They also spoke literally, because it happened quite often that posts communicated silently lightning fast through a local allweb node using their symbiotic AIs.
“The Mantaray is prepped and ready to go.” informed Bobby.
The Mantaray was one of five of their small stealth fighters that they used on missions like these to approach within striking distance of their targets. It was of a beautiful three winged design, black as space that disappeared quickly from view as the stealth fields and camouflage circuits took over.
“I suggest that we modify the base plan a bit. I think that we should go in separately from the craft using nanofluidic stealth armors and call in the Mantaray when we have the target secure.”
“I concur.” replied Euclid the tactical officer. The other nodded in agreement. “I should keep the Nautilus nearby with armaments active and full attack posture deployed, full morphing adapted in full stealth mode.”
Tactical decisions were in the field were the prerogative of the commanding officer. It always shocked Bobby how clear and posthuman the voice of Euclid sounded. No machine inflections audible to his trained ears. It looked like Euclid was using one of his customary nanomasks to hide his vocal inflections. Either that or he had been trained at some point in micro-expressive masking.
“All of us should carry an extra heavy weapon or two, in addition to our suit based armaments.” growled Kobayashi, the weapons expert. “We don’t know what to expect and I get a feeling that it won’t be easy.”
“I concur” replied Euclid again.
“Good. To each his own poison. Every one of you, take a heavy weapon with you on this mission. I’ll make sure to take some extra surprises to clean up afterwards.” commanded Bobby.
The term heavy weapon was relative. Most heavy weapons from the fleet were handheld. The only difference was with the effects that came out of the muzzle. For Kobayashi, this was different. His physique enabled him to carry battle droid strength armaments, which would rip Bobby’s shoulder if he fired one of them. Most Titanomachiae carried specially adapted weapons with them from their home system.
“So how do you think they got here, in this asteroid field and why of all places?” asked Orca looking towards Urnu.
“I don’t know, but I liked her ransom vid!” replied Urnu slyly.
“Ok, let’s lock and load people. Five cycles to deployment time.” interjected Bobby.
* * * * *
To be continued
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Next: The Preparation
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