17 – Neural Interface

After leaving her father’s bedside to have a meal within the quarters she shared with four other cadets, Lieren returned to her father’s small room where she spent the night. The morning found her lying asleep on the couch across from her father’s bed.

     “Lieren?” her father called out to her. Lieren stirred, gasped as she awoke, and brought herself upright. She brushed her hair away from her face with her hands and looked at Doctor Souq through groggy eyes. The young cadet revealed a weak smile.

     “Hi, dad,” she said, rising from the couch and stretching her arms. She was still wearing her loose-fitting, white cadet uniform.

     “Look at you,” Souq stated, also suffering a bit of grogginess. “My baby girl’s all grown up.”

     “Not quite,” Lieren told him, walking over to sit in the chair next to his bedside. “How are you feeling?”

     “I’m hungry,” he said. Despite the lingering weakness from the sedative and the emotional turmoil he was experiencing as a result of the Akkain station attack, he smiled with the joy of seeing his daughter again.

     “We’ll get you something to eat,” Lieren said. She pressed the call button on a lumigraph next to her father’s bed. Seconds later, a nurse entered the room, assessed Souq, left and returned with a breakfast tray. When Lieren asked, the nurse said that meals served in the medical bay were for patients only. Souq heard this, and after the nurse left, he offered his daughter part of his meal which she promptly refused.

     “You need to get your strength back,” she told him.

     So Lieren hugged her father goodbye while she left to have breakfast in her quarters. As she passed the nurse station, the nurse overseeing her father’s care informed her that he would be released around noon. The nurse also reminded Lieren about her appointment for the installation of her neural interface. When the cadet returned from breakfast, the lavender-skinned Larissian took a seat in the medical bay’s waiting room next to a light-skinned, blonde Terran in standard uniform with armor sheathed over her right forearm. Both of them possessing shy dispositions, neither of them said a word to each other until they were both called by their full names simultaneously.

     “Lieren Souq, Krystal Zara,” a nurse called. The two stood and looked at each other for a moment before walking toward the nurse together. “Follow me,” she said as she led them down a corridor and to a medical officer’s examination room. Once inside, they were greeted by the chief medical officer herself: Doctor Iveti, a Yeran, wearing an unfastened lab coat over a dark gray bodysuit.

     “You’re both here for neural implants?” Iveti asked them. Krystal and Lieren nodded. Iveti pointed to Krystal and asked, “You’re swapping to Accellus Four, correct?” Krystal gave another nod. Directing her attention to Lieren, Iveti asked, “You don’t currently have one, correct?” Lieren also nodded. “Okay,” the medical officer said impatiently. “We have a million of these to do today, so go ahead and take off your clothes while I evaluate your health.” Lieren began unfastening her jacket while Krystal hesitated. The cadet had stripped down to her undergarments before Iveti told Krystal,” Remove your Accellus for me, please.” As soon as they were completely undressed, the nurse gave each of them a gown to slip over their naked bodies. Iveti’s medical scans confirmed their good health, and she walked with them through an airscreen to the operating room where another medical officer was waiting next to two vertical operating tables.

     “Lieren, your procedure will be performed by my assistant,” Iveti stated as she recalled her lab coat and replaced it with a gown. A sterilizing shield-scrubber passed over her as she talked. “You are going to stand on this platform,” she instructed, pointing the base of the table, “and you’re going to lie with your chest against the cushion and your face against this hole at the top.” The two did as they were told. When the two had positioned themselves appropriately, the tables angled themselves downward toward the horizontal. Lieren was given anesthetic first. Iveti could feel the tension in Krystal’s body, so she leaned down to speak softly in Krystal’s ear while she was still conscious.

     “I’m going to need you to remove your camouflage,” Iveti told her. “Don’t worry; your secret is safe with us. I’m going to take every precaution as the ones who gave you your Accellus Three NI. As you of course are aware, your anatomy makes this procedure much more difficult which is why I’m performing it myself.”

     Krystal disabled the advanced, Federation-designed shrouding system she wore behind each ear. Her hair transformed from blonde to a red fierier than Atara’s. Her silver eyes matched Atara’s green. Krystal’s auricles doubled in length, and a glowing, red circle appeared on the back of her neck just below where her NI was. Doctor Iveti applied a dosage of anesthetic a fraction of the strength of Lieren’s, and the elshi was out in three seconds.

     “How are you feeling?” a nurse asked Krystal as she came to her senses. Krystal immediately pulled a lock of her hair down in front of her eyes. It was blonde, and she sighed in relief.

     “How long was I asleep?” Krystal asked.

     “About four hours.”

     “What happened to the cadet?” She remembered the girl’s surname and had wanted to ask about any relation to Doctor Souq.

     “She left after the surgery.”

     When she realized she was still naked beneath a gown, she began scanning the room with her eyes until she found her Accellus boots.

     “May I get dressed?”

     “Of course,” said the nurse, “after which you are free to go if you’re feeling well.” The nurse exited the room. Krystal stepped her bare feet into her boots, removed the gown, and using the new NI for the first time, clothed herself in the standard uniform.

     The day after, Xannissa met with Lieren and the other eleven AOTP cadets in the heart of the Kelsor’s engineering department between the two hyperwarp cores and the mediator—the three of which formed the synerdrive system. By now, all of the cadets sported new Accellus 4 neural interfaces, but they were still relegated to wearing their non-REMASS cadet uniforms for the time being. Xannissa, as the principal mentor and overseer of the Kelsor’s cadets (which she eventually found out), sought to orient the cadets to actual starship life by exposing them to the state-of-the-art, technological wonderland within the battlecruiser which was underway on a real mission. Engineering was one of the more dangerous places to conduct a first meeting, but Xannissa couldn’t be bothered to consider any alternatives. She took pride in her career and area of expertise. Other engineering staff glanced at the group of officers-in-training as they carried out their work.

     “Good morning, cadets,” she said. “Allow me to formally welcome you aboard the Kelsor for her maiden voyage. I am Commander Xannissa Cetalo—chief engineer of this vessel. As engineers, our duty is to maintain vital ship systems such as propulsion, gravitics, life support, omnimics, and power generation as well as structural integrity, shielding, and weapons system functionality. Basically, we keep the ship running. These bowels you’re standing in house the seven plasma engines and their reactors, the four primary ODECs, four of the six large omnium reservoirs, and our incredible synerdrive: the first of its kind. Though multi-core hyperwarp systems have been tried, they have never worked until now. And it’s all thanks to the mediator,” she stated, pointing to the master synergistic drive regulator.

     “What is important about the mediator?” Lieren asked. It was times like these that her curiosity overwhelmed her shyness.

     “I am so glad you asked,” Xannissa said, beaming. “Normally, hyperwarp drives manipulating the same space interfere with each other, reducing performance and increasing energy expenditure. As a matter of fact, having two hyperwarp cores on the same ship would use more energy than the same hyperwarp cores mounted on two different ships—with marginal speed gains at best. The only way for a multi-core system to work effectively is for the two warp fields to be in perfectly-precise sync with each other. Even the smallest of natural perturbations is enough to throw two cores into chaos, so the mediator is essentially a computer—separate from the adjunct—that measures warp field perturbations and instructs both cores to correct for them nigh instantaneously a trillion times a second. What you find is that both drives use less power working together than they would have used separately, and, in the case of this ship, a twelve percent increase in hyperwarp top speed compared to standard speeds for other military vessels this size.

     “Now, maintaining starships is not a trivial task. Note the difference between maintaining and repairing. Supposing we haven’t seen combat of course, if a system reaches the point where it needs repair, we aren’t doing our jobs properly. As an engineering department, we have three lines of defense against malfunctions, and I’m not talking about shields. Can anyone here tell me what those are?”

     One of the cadets said, “Autorepair.”

     “Okay, that’s one,” Xannissa told them. “Autorepair is a specialized REMASS system that passively remodels and maintains most of the ship’s hull and armor. Can anyone think of another?”

     “What about the drones?” another cadet asked.

     “The drones, for sure. They’re small enough to fit in most places, and since they are controlled by the adjunct they know the ship better than any of us ever will. Plus, they are totally expendable. We put them to work on vital systems that autorepair can’t maintain. Someone tell me the last one.”

     After several seconds, Lieren said, “Visual inspection.”

     “Absolutely,” Xannissa said smiling. “At the end of the day, we need to know how to take care of this battlecruiser ourselves despite the technology aiding us. I have served in the Navy for about seven decades, and I can tell you that there will be a time when you will need to find and fix a problem yourself. We never crawl on our hands and feet through small spaces ripping panels off walls. We have gravitics and lumionics for moving around as well as sophisticated subspatial gravimeters—better known as mass scanners.” Xannissa held out her hand as she fabricated a small device.

     “This is a special type of mass scanner that we call a holostereographer. Follow me.” She shepherded the cadets to the nearest wall and attached the flat, circular device to it. After interacting with a lumionic interface, the holostereographer made the wall’s surface look like an active OPEL window into the conduits, pipes, electronics and support structure within the wall, all presented in false color that accentuated depth. “With this device,” she continued, “there is no place where we cannot peek into walls. Most other mass scanners work by detecting the motion of objects. This one detects objects that are not moving and has a very short range, so it can’t see straight through walls; only into them.” She disabled the device and recalled it into her suit’s omnium reservoir.

     “Are there any questions before we wrap up this part of our tour?” Xannissa asked them.

     “What motivated you to become an engineer?” Lieren asked. Xannissa paused for a moment.

     “I honestly wasn’t expecting a question like that,” the Elestan responded, laughing lightly. “As a child, I wasn’t very interested in toys. Actually, when I was four, I took apart our family’s REMASS system to try to figure out where all the things it made came from. My father was not impressed at all.” Xannissa laughed, and the cadets joined in, although nervously. “I grew up on Elestus, so Sister World snob. It was easy to get another one. But after that, the first thing my father fabricated was a tablet that he gave to me. On it was a copy of a book for teenagers about starships. I couldn’t understand most of the words, but it came with three-dee lumes that you could take apart and put back together. I took it to school when I first started, got it taken away many times, but when I was seven, we took our first interstellar flight. That’s what sold me. I love big machines, and I enjoy being around them; working on them.”

     Xannissa paused once more, realizing that despite those memories being over a hundred years old, she could remember them in astonishing detail. Eventually, she led the girls back to the lifts which ferried them to the next leg of their orientation.

     Meanwhile, Dr. Souq was alone in his quarters that had been provided for him upon his release from the medical bay. He wore his personal civilian REMASS clothing which he decided would be a light gray t-shirt and black pants. Because he was a civilian, he was discouraged—but not forbidden—from wandering the ship. He wasn’t interested in making more trouble for himself, so to preoccupy his mind, he sat at the desk in his bedroom and browsed the Subnet on a set of lumigraphs. When the door to his quarters was pinged, Souq felt a surge of happiness because of the anticipation he had of seeing his daughter again.

     “Lieren?” he asked.

     “Doctor Souq,” came an unfamiliar voice through a lumionic speaker.

     “Who are you?”

     “I’m Doctor Sayn Namara. May I enter?” Her tone was serious.

     “C-come in,” Souq said hesitantly. The woman who stepped through the door was not Lieren. Instead she was an Elestan with black hair in a ponytail. Like the physicians of the medical bay, she wore a white lab coat over her bodysuit, but her bodysuit was dark gray and plain. Souq stood from his chair when she strode in.

     “Doctor Quen Souq,” she said, extending her right arm to him, “I am the Kelsor’s chief science officer.” Souq grabbed her hand and they exchanged a cordial handshake. “Do you know why I’m here?” Souq released his hand.

     “I’m afraid I do not,” he told her. Namara let out a light sigh before pausing.

     “I need your permission to release your data.”

     “Is this about ecksivar?”

     Namara nodded. Souq slowly lowered himself back into the chair.

     “But that’s all classified,” he stated.

     “I am aware,” she told him, dropping the sensitive act. “I knew you would say that. Read this.” She opened a lumigraph, grabbed it with her fingers and brought it to his face where she let it go. As he skimmed it, he determined that it was a legitimate disclosure order from the Federation’s Military Advanced Research and Development Agency, otherwise referred to as MARAD. He was to hand over everything that he and Akkain Technologies had pertaining to ecksivar including data, facilities, equipment, and staff effective immediately.

     “Why are they doing this to me?” Souq asked softly. His voice trembled and his eyes were like glass. Namara crossed her arms as she waited for him to submit. “Don’t you understand? My lab was attacked. I lost everything! The only things I have left are my daughter and my data.”

     “You can keep your daughter,” she said with a sarcastic reassurance, “but that data was never yours.”

     “Then why are you asking for my permission?” he yelled. Namara was as unfazed as the psychologist on Mirida had been.

     “That data belongs to Akkain, but it’s logged in your name. Don’t make this any more difficult.”

     Souq brought a hand to his eyes, rubbed it back and forth a few times, and moved his hand down his lilac face and let it slip off his beard. His heart sank through the bottom bulkhead.

     “You know, this is the end of me, right?”

     Namara said nothing.

     Souq sighed loudly. He stamped his signature into the lumigraph, and it abruptly disappeared.

     “Thank you,” she told him before exiting his quarters, leaving him to quietly contemplate the remaining value of his life as he stared at the blank wall across from him.

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