A Merkiaari Wars snippet by Mark E. Cooper
At the same time as Sebastian watched the Shan from afar, he observed Liz Brenchley hard at work on his special project. She was leaning on her office holotable, her elbows on the brightly lit surface displaying a schematic of his ship’s engineering spaces.
Liz cupped her face in her hands and groaned.

Sebastian manifested his avatar on the opposite side of the table and mimicked her posture.

“Something wrong?”

Liz said, “Eeeep!”

It surprised a laugh from him.

She stood straight and gave him a mock glare. “I’m going to put a bell on you if you don’t stop sneaking up on me.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

“Don’t tempt me. I’d figure out a way.”

An audible alert to track activation of the holo emitters would work; simple to set up on her comp as well, but he would never tell her. It was too much fun popping in and out.

“What are you working on?”

Liz waved a hand at the table. “Your ship. The mods are way too complicated.”

“How so?”

“It’s the level of automation you’ve specified.”

“What about it?”

“It’s overly complicated for starters, and unnecessary to the ship’s operation.”

“It isn’t a standard vessel. Naval SOP doesn’t apply here. Think of it as a mobile Oracle Facility. You wouldn’t install me into something I couldn’t control, would you?”

“No but–”

“There are no buts.”

“There are!” Liz protested. “Oracle isn’t crewed. The ship is. You can’t expect your crew to sit on their hands all day, or sleep until you need them for something. We need to create a symbiosis between you as a ship, and your crew as people. They’re not passengers, and they’re not droids. You can’t treat them like that.”

Sebastian pursed his lips. “Actually…”


“But the Merkiaari use hibernation all the time.”

“They’re Merki. You won’t have a crew if you ask that of them. Humans have needs, Sebastian. We need to feel useful and appreciated.”

“I know,” he said a little defensively. “I feel the same.”

“Then put yourself in their place. You’ll want volunteers to go with you. That means they’ll need jobs that interest them, and make them feel needed. And besides, it reduces the mods I need to make.”

“You just don’t want to do the work,” he accused.

She raised a hand. “Guilty as charged, but it’s not that I don’t want to do the work, it’s that I don’t want to do unnecessary work.”

“What do you consider unnecessary?”

“The level of automation is off the charts. If I use your specs, you won’t need a crew at all, because I’ll be building an Excalibur-shaped recon drone.”

That hit home, and Sebastian had to consider Liz might have a point. Drones could be dispatched instead of a ship, but they were limited in scope. His child wouldn’t be happy piloting a drone. He or she would have the same emotional needs as Sebastian himself did. They would be identical twins, at least at first. He knew precisely what his child needed to be happy and feel fulfilled.

Find the Merki homeworld, and turn it into Kushiel’s twin.

“What do you suggest?”

“You had the right idea regarding CIC, helm control, and tactical. It makes perfect sense for you to control your own sensors, manoeuvring, and defence at need, but I think you should still man your bridge.”

“Not a very efficient use of personnel,” Sebastian said.

“That wasn’t a no,” Liz replied.

“I’m open to persuasion. What else have you got?”

“Your crew will be vipers I assume.”

“I imagine so.”

“Then the entire ship should be retrofitted with neural interfaces to allow them to operate ship’s systems remotely the way you do. It means you’ll have backup while reducing crew numbers.”

“Makes sense, but you’re increasing your workload not reducing it.”

“That’s not much of an issue. My guys did it on a smaller scale a few years ago.”

“Our courier ships you mean.”

Liz nodded. “This job is bigger. Courier ships are small and unarmed, but it’s just a matter of scale not complexity. I can do it no sweat.”

“Go on.”

“You’ll be able to link with your crew via the net just as you can reach the vipers now, but you’ll still have all the holo projectors you asked for. You’ll be able to project your avatar anywhere on board to interact with them that way if you want.”

“Anything else?”

“Your crew will operate and maintain the ship in the usual way. You’ll have the normal complement in engineering with the full set of droids an Excalibur class heavy normally carries. You’ll be able to control those in a pinch, but all being well you shouldn’t need to intervene.”

Sebastian studied the schematics and thought about it.

“It allows the crew to be useful, Sebastian, not just cargo,” Liz pleaded anxiously. “Come on, I know you can see that’s an advantage. You’ll look after each other. You’ll be partners.”

He looked up at that. Did she realise how much he craved social interaction? He didn’t think so. Gina knew, but Liz didn’t have a neural interface. He’d never been intimate with her the way he’d been with Gina. He’d quite literally lived in her head during his installation under The Mountain.

Sebastian knew Gina better than she did. He had perfect recall, and had a copy of everything she’d ever thought. Every memory, every dream and emotion she’d ever had was lovingly codified and saved in his centrum. Safe for eternity. His friend would live forever in him. His saviour would never be forgotten while he lived.

“You want me to approve your changes?” Sebastian finally said. His brief introspection had gone unnoticed, though thousands of nanoseconds had passed.

“There’s no point continuing if you don’t.”

“Very well. I approve,” he said. “The next step is acquiring a ship.”

“Not informing George?”

“Not yet. He’ll have questions and we don’t have all the answers yet.”

Liz frowned. “Who does?”

“Captain Stone.”

“If anyone can jack an Excalibur under the navy’s nose, it would be him.”

“Quite,” Sebastian said. “OSI will be my next stop.”

“You’re going now?”

“I’m already there,” Sebastian said, and smiled.

Mark E. Cooper

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