In “Abyss & Apex Magazine” (2017)
space opera (short story)
When the fuel is flowing smoothly, it feels like silk under my fingertips. It unravels, kilometer after kilometer, soft and slightly warm to the touch. Through my fingers I sense any interruption in the flow, the grittiness that signals the presence of impurities, the sudden check and release of a stalled pump, the knotting drag of developing turbulence in the feed pipes. It is my job to feel these things: assess the fuel quality, monitor the pumps, smooth away the turbulence before it can choke the engines.
It is all illusion, of course. The engines are not in my hands, but half a kilometer from where I float in my harness. The smallest of the thrusters is too massive for twenty men to move. The sudden warmth between my palms that tells me the main engine is firing is no more than a muted echo of the inferno raging in the ignition chamber as tonnes of fuel flash into plasma in an instant. But it is an illusion that I can work with.
The interface that I use is generated by the ship’s processing core. The core takes the data fed to it from a million sensors and effectors and translates it into things I can feel and hear and smell and taste. The core is more than smart enough to do everything itself, of course. It could control the burns from start to finish, just as it could carry out every other function on the ship. It doesn’t have to play understudy to the human crew. But there’s a reason why we don’t like to rely on computers too much. There’s a reason why we prefer to keep humans in the loop.
And here I am. I’m not so much a cog in the machine as a sinew or a synapse. I’m one linkage in the almost organic system of flesh and metal that we call Siri. I do my job well. Everyone says so.