|Starburst Mark I
Pursuit Ship Edmundsen Alpha|
We don't need sleep, of course, but a 33% rest cycle is indicated
to maintain optimal reaction speeds.
I (that is to say, the Starburst mark I pursuit ship pilot
identified as Space Lieutenant ModEdmundsen Alpha-One) plug into
the bunk socket, registering the slight tingle in my chest as my
primary energy cell commences its recharge cycle, focus into the
soprano chirrup that is Alpha-Two. 'Full systems check,' she says
smugly, over the faint double echo of Beta-Two and Gamma-Two each
starting their system checks, 200 spacials away in Edmundsens
Beta and Gamma. 'Plasma capacity 95%. Main drive function
In the background, the reassuring murmur of Momi, 'Ship time
fifteen oh two point 29. Sector three. Bearing
two-five-zero-alpha. Time distort six. Holding.'
'Auxiliary drive function normal. Energy banks 85%.'
'Ship time fifteen oh two point 97. Sector three.'
'Main computer fully operational. Tight-beam communications
'Bearing two-five-zero-alpha. Time distort six. Holding.'
'Short-range scans null detected. Life-support systems normal.'
'Ship time fifteen oh three point 64...'
Focus out again, letting Two fade back to a lime-green readout.
Focus into the sky-blue line, see the shining white walls of the
galley through Alpha-Three's eyes as he finishes punching the
sequence of buttons to reconstitute the Commander's second-watch
meal, snaps the three white rectangular cartons into the slots on
the white rectangular mess-tray, and heads towards the
Commander's cabin. I blink, and the dull white fabric of the cube
ceiling a metre above my head snaps back into focus. I
concentrate on the dimpled track left by a pulled thread. I don't
want to see Space Commander Edmundsen through Three's eyes.
I terminate that thought process. Thought is a luxury, best
'Ship time fifteen oh four...'
I dim the light to 15% (as recommended in section 32, paragraph
158 of the Standard Operating Procedures) and let Momi rock me if
not to sleep, at least to the closest Modified equivalent.
'Ship time fifteen oh five...'
We're supposed to be machines. Machines built from living flesh.
And probably most of us are.
I'd learned to act passive, blank. As if I truly felt no
emotions. Had no personality. No identity. It wasn't all that
difficult. There was so little in my life to have emotions about.
But sometimes alone in my sleep cube, the link reduced to minimum
intensity, I shed silent tears. Tears for the life I knew I must
have lost. Tears for the dead woman that must once have been me.
But not very often. If thought is a luxury, how much more so
Space Command Headquarters
Momi is Multi-Operation Machine Intelligence, of course: the
shipboard central computer standard in Starburst-class pursuit
ships. But I always call her Momi. I don't know why.
I do know that I miss her when I'm stationed back at base.
Active patrol duty periods alternate with base duty periods at
Space Command Headquarters: 50% base duty is recommended in the
Standard Operating Procedures. To allow time for training, the
SOP database says, but I guess it's actually because there are
more pilot-trained Modifieds than pursuit ships.
That's one of the things I comfort myself with in those
occasional moments when I am unwatched even by the surveillance
cameras and thought is safe. Relatively safe. (All Modifieds
channels are monitored continuously with a random sampling
On base, Modifieds are assigned into pairs for the entire
sixty-shift duty period. So, whether I'm walking two paces behind
Space Major Sheron on leave from the Galactic Third Fleet,
cleaning living quarters in residential section seven, or
replenishing my serum supply in the Officers section of the
Modifieds quarters, I'm accompanied by the pursed lips and high
cheekbones of Space Lieutenant ModAtali Beta-Two. She's even more
po-faced than Two and Three on-ship. 'Confirmed, Space
Lieutenant,' she says. 'On alert, Space Lieutenant.' 'Corridor
clear, Space Lieutenant.' At least I'm not linked with her -- few
base operations require the degree of rapid co-ordinated response
that is routine on-ship.
This shift we're unloading crates of dehydrated potato mix from a
Jupiter mark II freighter docked into cargo section three. Troop
rations. Some shifts I can almost feel glad that I've been
'Item four hundred and seventy-six,' I say. 'Contents:
vitamin-enhanced dehydrated potato mix. Source: Zerok.'
'Confirmed,' she says, rapidly entering the data into the
'Item four hundred and seventy-seven. Contents: vitamin-enhanced
dehydrated potato mix. Source: Zerok.'
'Confirmed,' she says.
'Item four hundred and seventy-eight,' I say. 'This one's
vitamin-enhanced dehydrated potato mix as well.' I immediately
regret my words, their non-standard tone: even such a minor
infraction of procedures is a disciplinable offence.
'Source?' she asks.
'Confirmed,' she says, but she does not input the data. 'There
are twenty-two crates remaining,' she adds.
She glances at my face for a millisecond longer than is standard.
I stare back, seeing her eyes for the first time.
'The info-terminal appears to be dysfunctional,' she says. 'I am
unable to input item four hundred and seventy-eight.'
Space Lieutenant ModAtali Beta-Two's eyes are grey-green with
fine strands of amber radiating from the pupil. I step towards
her, towards the info-terminal. Its green data input light is
blinking steadily, 1.2 times per second.
I could sound the alarm, have her arrested. I could overrule her
mistake, order her to continue.
I say, 'Yes.'
Her rigid posture unstiffens slightly. I guess that she'd let out
a breath but like me she's a Fully Modified, her respiratory
system replaced by energy cells. Most Modifieds serving on
pursuit ships are, it further increases low-pressure tolerance
for conducting emergency repairs in the event of a hull breach.
'There's no surveillance device in the Jupiter mark II cargo
hold,' she whispers, as we kneel down side by side by the
info-terminal. Then, at standard volume, 'Unlocking the
info-terminal service port,' she says.
I realise that the way she's balancing the metal cover blocks the
surveillance camera's line of sight to my hands. I reach in, yank
out a couple of connections, use a laser probe to fuse that whole
area of the board, re-stow the probe in my ventrally-mounted
maintenance kit. 'There has been a severe malfunction,' I say.
'The damage to the secondary circuit board cannot be repaired.' I
stand up slowly, my body anticipating the blare of the Space
Command Police sirens.
We walk together into the shaded depths of the cargo hold, our
boots clanking in unison on the metal floor.
'Is it safe here?' I whisper.
'Nowhere's safe,' she says. 'You know that. But we have
approximately fifteen minutes to repair the terminal before they
send out a maintenance technician.'
'You've done this before.'
'Yes,' she says. Then: 'I thought you were a loyal Federation
'I thought you were.'
'You were always so correct, so nauseatingly efficient.'
'So were you!' I want to cry out, to hug her. I've seen
Unmodified humans laugh sometimes, but I don't know how.
She touches my gloved hand gently. 'We should go back.'
We walk abreast in silence to the technical stores in hub section
two, to requisition a secondary circuit board for a cargo section
At least now there is a 'we'.
Shifts come and shifts go. Nothing has changed as we, ModAtali
Beta-Two and I, efficiently perform all our assigned duties
without exchanging another unnecessary word or gesture. Yet
everything has changed.
Now, when we march two abreast through the corridors and an
Unmodified trooper barrels into me, heavy elbow in my chest, the
hissed word 'Vampire' in my ear, I no longer imagine cutting his
throat with the laser knife in my maintenance kit.
Now, when we occupy adjacent stalls in the Modifieds quarters, I
no longer feel dirty when I refill my serum stores.
Time passes faster now.
I wait outside the Modifieds sleep section for ModAtali Beta-Two.
She's two minutes and thirty-five seconds late. An eternity. Then
she's marching down the long circumferential corridor towards me,
a stiff-backed, matt-black cut-out melting through a large group
of blue-coveralled Unmodified technicians. As she comes nearer, I
realise that there's something wrong with her. She must be
injured, but there's no obvious damage to her head or chest or
limbs. I want to run towards her, hold her in my strong arms,
make her well again. I stand stiffly to attention.
Then when she's only a hundred metres away I see what it is. She
isn't ModAtali Beta-Two. The flashes on her uniform are the
correct rank, but she's a centimetre taller, a kilogramme or two
heavier, and her eyes are dark brown, not grey-green. I relax
ever so slightly. ModAtali Beta-Two must still be on her way.
I'm wondering what could possibly have delayed her for so long
when the brown-eyed Modified comes straight up to me, stops 1.5
metres away, salutes.
'Reporting for morning shift, Space Lieutenant,' she says.
'Acknowledged, Space Lieutenant,' I respond.
'Shift assignment: guard duties, cell B thirty-one,' she says.
'Acknowledged,' I say, and we walk abreast in silence to cell
block B. I have to concentrate on each heavy paired tread to
prevent the nausea in my head surfacing in my facial expression.
'Has Space Lieutenant ModAtali Beta-Two been transferred?' I ask.
She couldn't have been transferred, we still have sixteen base
shifts remaining. I would have been informed.
'I am Space Lieutenant ModAtali Beta-Two,' the brown-eyed
I don't know how I survive the next three shifts. Every step I
expect the gloved hand on my shoulder, the sting of the cattle
prod where my guts would be if they had not been replaced with
ventral serum stores. I think. (Unmodified human anatomy is not
part of the standard Starburst pursuit ship pilot databank, and
I've never received the data implant for direct combat.)
Off-duty is little better. I'm at a recharge point, pretending to
listen to a report from Three about the status of a minor
modification to the ship's auxiliary drive that is threatening to
confine us to base duty for another ten shifts. His deep baritone
voice drones on (my aural sensors are recording it for future
reference), but I'm straining to hear the newsvid running on the
far side of the Officers section. Waiting for the arrest order
regarding ex-Space Lieutenant ModEdmundsen Alpha-One to be
announced. Waiting for my chance to run screaming through the
endless shiny white corridors before everything turns black, or
red. (Plugged into a recharge socket, running and screaming are
unlikely to be available options, of course.)
Automatically register a low intensity male voice pattern, match
with databanks. Space Lieutenant ModAtali Beta-One. Three's
baritone and the newsvid both disappear instantly.
'Silly fool spaced herself through a cargo ... in section five,' I hear.
Then a second even fainter voice, recognised with 75% probability
as ModAtali Beta-Three, but I can't make out any of the words.
'She self-administered ... niverone ... stolen ... medical
stores...' I catch from ModAtali Beta-One, who's lowered his
voice even further.
Preniverone? Suddenly the nausea is almost overwhelming and I
don't know whether it's from relief or disgust. I shut my eyes
tight. Retrieve the full item from my databank just to check.
Preniverone mesylate: Chemical formula:
Molecular mass: 654.6. Therapeutic class: CNS-active. Major therapeutic uses:
Memory restructurative therapy. Erasure of higher cortical functions prior to
reprogramming (applicable to Modified units only). Access: Restricted class
3. Route of administration: Subcutaneous injection. Dosage---
'Are your functions impaired, Space Lieutenant?' High volume.
Three's baritone. There's a strange edge to his voice that the
new 'we' part of my brain processes as ... concern? 'Shall I
accompany you to the medical section?'
Somehow I find enough voice to acknowledge, mutter something
about power surges via the recharge socket.
I'm ashamed but now relief is the strongest emotion. I'm safe. Safe. Safe!
I push down the dangerous 'we' part of my brain, squash it into
dormancy. Avoid Three's eyes.
I see ModAtali Beta-Two -- the one with grey-green eyes -- again
only once. Though her eyes are still grey-green with flecks of
amber, they're dull now. There's a purple scar on her left cheek
that wasn't there before, and her skin matches the pale grey of
Light grey. Special situations clean-up crew, sub-category
infectious hazard. I feel relief that she's been dead for over
ten shifts now.
I watch her board a transport to Fosforon.
Starburst Mark I Pursuit Ship
Pulled thread marring the perfection of the sleep cube ceiling. My sleep cube
ceiling. I could stare at that thread track for hours. And do.
Distinctive thump thump thump of the Commander's boots in the corridor. Scratching
sound as he runs his long nails along the metal partition wall, as he often
does at these times. Hiss of the door opening, little rattle it always makes.
(Memorandum to report the dysfunction to Maintenance next base period.) Squealing
noise of the sleep cube closure.
Try to imagine grey-green eyes with their tracery of amber instead of these
dark-brown ones, and a different kind of touch altogether.
Fail. Not that it would be a betrayal, no (that betrayal's past), but all I
see are the flat eyes that belong to that grey stranger. Grey coverall shroud
obscures her real face.
I close my eyes (I can't remember what colour they are) and think greedily of
the mean life expectancy of Modified pursuit ship pilots: 405.3 days. Listen
'Ship time sixteen ten point 53. Sector five. Time distort four. Accelerating:
vector three-seven-zero-delta. All shipboard systems fully functional,' she
And Momi always knows best.
While this story was conceived as Blake's 7 fanfiction & various
concepts belong to that universe, the alert reader will note that it owes far
more of a debt to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which supplied
not only the plot but also several key lines of dialogue. What can I say beyond
the obvious: go and read the original.
My tale was written for the zine I, Mutoid, edited by Emma Peel. This
version has been somewhat revised from the one published there.