16: The Pilot
Seamless, with the sheen of satin metal. Without knowing, one would think it a place of sensory deprivation, not one of control. The ambient blue glow only expressed how featureless the Sphere’s inner wall was. And suspended absolute centre, the Pilot floated, attached to the sphere like a marionette.
“Zero three. Five. Transverse and stop. Shift upper and purge”.
The code of void travel. To learn it was something not of privilege, wealth, or intelligence, but of genetic selection. To be a Pilot, you need the correct gene sequence and there was nothing anyone could do to game the process; the ‘Collective’ ensured, and enforced, this protocol. Kai, this ship’s Pilot, was one of the few with the right DNA, yet it still took him 10 years to learn how to string ‘Singularity’ code together before stepping into a Sphere.
Surrounded by three hundred and sixty degrees of information, superimposed over a bottomless view of the void, Kai was here and everywhere at once. The hull, as a translucent shell, surrounded him and through which he could see all details – reach out, touch the reactor, and everything he needed to know spilled forth. Only those with the correct genetics, amongst other traits, could cope with the data. Before the Pilots, as it had been for as long as history could remember, to navigate the void took a ‘bowl’, and a bridge full of crew.
Aptly, as the heart of the ship, Kai’s Sphere was centrally located; this ship was big enough to allow that. Made from pure MAG, the Sphere’s charged shell kept him suspended dead centre and right side up, regardless of direction or gravity – ‘null point space’ it was called. It was the MAG that enabled Pilots to do what they did, much as it enabled a raft of other mysterious and unrelated things to work in the current reality.
And that’s what made it so precious…
Kai noticed the alert to his five o’clock. In another of MAG’s mysteries, he spun in space to look at it, frictionless friction. Reaching out to ‘tap’ the alert, the information spilled out. The contact was coming in fast and erratically.
“Seven three. Jump. Invert. Push.”
The manoeuvre was meant to make sure the ship could not be locked while he shunted the information to forward navigation for them to clarify. But it was too late, the inbound ship had fired 4 fish and they already had a lock. That he did not see the ship until it was right on them meant only one thing – Pirates.
Pilots were many things to a ship but they were not there for combat operations. Large ships had forward nav’s, the ‘formal’ bridges where more specialised attention was given to any issue that arose. Being a freighter though, the combat station on the bridge was sparse at best and certainly not up to the task of dealing with an experienced pirate. Within minutes the fish slammed into the hull and Kai watched the the ship break apart around him. It was never going to be much of a fight.
He knew the crew were dead. Enveloped by the void before they could do anything about it. He though was OK, for now. The Sphere, automatically sending out the ‘Pilot down’ distress call’ , keeping him protected and alive as he drifted in the wreckage. He was helpless until he was rescued.
But he knew his end was near… the freighter was empty, between runs. The only thing of any value on board was the thing keeping him alive… MAG was extremely precious metal after all.
Looking for Gods in Maschines:
Spans of the known:
A collection of hard science fiction tales written and illustrated by Gerard Thomas.