Burning in the Void – Chapter 18

integration _Captain

If I had still possessed human eyes and tear glands I would have wept the first time I awoke in my new body. As it was, every light in the ship flickered on and off for twenty minutes before I calmed myself enough that the integration technicians felt it safe to pass command of the life-support systems over to me.

You have to understand that I was a veteran pilot with years of experience living in space and nearly a thousand hours of flight experience under my harness by the time I was selected from a pool of hundreds of volunteers to enter the integration program. Despite all of that experience, nothing could have prepared me for the moment of connection with a space ship the size of a small city. Mind/machine integration is not a simple procedure, and of those who volunteered only forty percent were physically and mentally compatible with the procedure. Most of those who washed out were disqualified early on by a detailed scan of their brain structure, or by the rigorous psychological evaluations we all underwent, but there were others. Some of our class passed all of the screenings and proceeded to integration, only to die of an aneurism or be driven mad by sensory overload after the operation was completed.

Obviously they don’t simply plug a newly extracted brain into an interstellar space ship. Seven of us survived the surgery that integrated us with the network interface and began the intensive training regimen that taught our brains to map the input from various portions of the ship network to sensations throughout our bodies. Four more dropped then, unable to cope with the bizarre sensations that coursed through their phantom limbs. The prickling along their spines as cosmic rays hammered the  exterior sensor arrays. The sensation of a dry patches in their mouths as portions of the liquid recycling system broke down. All of the ten thousand little interactions that an integrated captain has with the ship every minute, mapped across the body to create a neurological tapestry.

I find it invigorating.

Others found it maddening, like an itch on their nose that could never be scratched.

In the end, only three of us qualified for command of the flight. By then we had all lived in our interface rigs for two years, learning to feel the ship as part of our own bodies, so it would have been quite a waste of manpower to return any of us to a human-form body. And so, in the final days before the mission launched, we were transferred to the secure command sector at the forward portion of the ship and…