Maccabee

Episode 302: Ship and Crew


“Wrong again, Ensign. We are now, all of us, quite dead. Would you like to try again?”

Chief Lamin Kinte’s voice, as always, was calm, even, polite, the picture of gentlemanly speech, and implacable as hell. Ensign Alla Brunje flushed bright red and managed to stammer, “Yes, sir,” though Maccabee could barely hear her from where he stood at the entrance to the Reactor One Tank, the reinforced ceramasteel blast chamber that surrounded Phoenix’s main fusion core. It was small by the standards of most inter-stellar vessels, a thirty terawatt AlphaCore Fusion T30-M3, but that was more than sufficient power for a ship this size. On board Hornet, Maccabee had had six reactors, each one of them about half as powerful as the AlphaCore, twice as big, and only two-thirds as efficient. Those units had cost him more than he cared to remember, and he didn’t want to think about how much Phoenix’s heart had cost.

That didn’t even begin to consider the pocket reactors that powered the ship’s jump drive. Those kind of things weren’t ever seen outside military applications, because only a government could afford them. All the more evidence that this revolution, no matter how ill-advised, was well funded.

“Very well,” said Chief Kinte. “I think first we’d better ask our good captain what brings him to our neck of the woods.” The Chief looked over at Maccabee and smiled. Ensign Brunje started, saw the captain, and flinched like she’d been slapped. Then, remembering her training, she straightened up and snapped off a sharp salute.

“At ease, ensign,” Maccabee said, entering the tank and turning left towards them on the catwalk that ran around the spherical space. He tried not to look at the reactor next to him, and to ignore the overpressure pushing at his ears, the vibrant hum of the feed lines, the deep, basso growl of the magnet walls that contained the nuclear fire inside the ring.

It wasn’t really a single ring, of course. Maybe some ancient technology, left over from the early days of the Fusion Revolution, still operated somewhere with a single, bulky ring, and just a single matter stream inside it. Those drives, nearly a millennium old now, had been built to last, but Maccabee doubted any of them still existed outside of a museum. The AlphaCore was a different beast entirely, interlacing dozens of matter streams inside a complex network of magnetic bounds and exotic alloy walls. The result looked like two thirds of a bumpy sphere, the top and bottom sliced off parallel to the equator. Spiked protuberances jutted out at odd angles, each one linked to the others by a network of conduits that was fastened in place by a spherical cage of ceramic-titanium alloy.

The spikes were matter accelerators, launching deuterium atoms into the streams, their timing exact to the nearest femtosecond, trajectories calculated to within attometer tolerances. At the same time—and this was the intent of the ceramium cage—the whole assembly had to take multiple tens or hundreds of gravities of acceleration in sudden and ever-changing directions as the ship was hit by enemy fire or went through hard maneuvering. The cage also served as the backbone for an energy screen that could attenuate incoming beam weapons or deflect particle weapons. Of course, anything that penetrated this far into the ship would likely have other catastrophic consequences, but better that—better anything!—than being inside a new, bright, and very short-lived star.

Maccabee knew damn well why he was scared of the bloody things. He just couldn’t understand why no one else seemed to be.

“What sort of simulation are you running, Chief?” asked Maccabee as he came up next to Kinte and Brunje. The former was a small man, as physically unimposing as his demeanor was commanding, with the sort of jet-black skin that few people wore by choice these days, a bald head, and eyes constructed out of some sort of obsidian metal, glinting spheres of deeper night nestled in the twilight of the man’s face. Disturbing eyes, that seemed to look nowhere yet always followed you across the room.

“We were studying a Class Four reactor containment breach, captain,” Kinte said, his eyes shimmering as they moved. Or was that light from inside them?

“Remind me, ensign,” said Maccabee, clasping his hands behind his back. “What characterizes a Class Four breach.”

In truth, he had not the faintest clue as to the answer, but he’d learned long ago that command was less about knowing things than about knowing people. Besides, Samara wasn’t around, so there was no one to laugh at his pompousness.

“Sir!” said Brunje sharply. “A Class Four containment breach involves a micrometer or greater interruption in magnetic containment while the reactor is active, resulting in matter stream integrity loss, kinetic bleed-through, and run-away reaction. Sir.”

She was young, but sharp, this Ensign Brunje. She had a fighter’s body, and a stance that spoke of serious training, but she kept her eyes firmly on the catwalk under Maccabee’s feet. Her blond hair was tied tight back, in what could have been an imitation of Lieutenant Ganda’s styling, but there the similarity ended, as wisps of Brunje’s hair had escaped their own containment field and floated free of her head, creating a halo in the bright lights.

“Chief?” prompted Maccabee.

“That is the correct answer,” Kinte agreed, nodding, “but she’s not feeling it.” He glanced over at his student, and Brunje lifted her chin and pushed her shoulders back. Good.

“I won’t interrupt your lesson for long, Chief,” Maccabee said, trying not to smile. “Just want to get a feel for how things are going down here.”

In truth, he didn’t have a good reason for coming by the Engineering Core, but Maccabee was feeling his captain’s duties more than usual. The new crew made him nervous: how would they perform under pressure? Phoenix was only two days out from her first stop; Maccabee hoped it would go with minimum of fuss, but he expected it to be a fucking mess. He’d learned it was better that way.

“Things, captain?” asked Chief Kinte.

Maccabee gave him a hard look, trying to judge if the engineer was being deliberately dense or just normally so. It was impossible to tell with those black eyes staring back at him, so he gave up. “Ensign, could you excuse us for a moment?” he said, dismissing Brunje. She saluted and rushed out of the tank, probably grateful to be out of there.

Maccabee waited a moment for the ensign to get out of ear shot, then said, “I’ve been with this ship for fifteen days, Chief.” Kinte nodded. “In two more days, we’re going into action. I have a lot of faith in Phoenix and in her crew, but I’d like to hear from you, personally, how things are going. Here, in engineering. By which, one might guess, I mean the reactors, the grav generators, the slipstream drive, the flight motors, and every other thing that makes this ship go, fight, and keep us alive. I would think that this would be a clear question. Am I mistaken?”

By the end of that, Kinte’s smile was gone, but his eyes never changed. How would they? He nodded. “Very clear, captain,” he said, “and no offense intended. I was, no doubt, distracted by the ensign’s spectacular failure moments before your entry.”

“Consider the matter closed, then,” Maccabee said. “What’s your report?”

“I am confident in all the ship’s systems, sir,” replied Kinte. “We are currently working on a targeting glitch in the port-side point defense grid, but I expect to have that cleared and up to test specifications before the end of the shift. As soon as I’m done here with Ensign Brunje, I’ll be heading that way to inspect the progress made myself.”

“The reactors?” prompted Maccabee, unable to believe that nothing else was wrong on a ship this size. Could Kinte really run such an efficient operation? Tangria Ashburn, Maccabee’s engineer on Hornet, was one of the most talented people in her field, and she’d never had so few problems to deal with.

“All reactors are running within normal parameters, captain,” said Kinte, his tone as unreadable as his face. “I plan on running a diagnostic sequence tomorrow, before our last jump.”

“Excellent,” Maccabee replied, though he was wondering just what “normal” parameters entailed. “What’s number one’s peak daily efficiency average, over the last ten days?” he asked, just to be on the safe side.

“Well within the rated specifications, sir,” Kinte answered, nodding his head as though this was all the answer anyone would want to hear.

Maccabee frowned. “Specifically, Chief,” he said. “What’s the number?”

Kinte hesitated, hoping that it wouldn’t matter, but Maccabee just watched him impassively. “Sir, Commander Brenner never asked for that information,” the Chief said at last.

Ah ha, thought Maccabee. Commander Max Brenner, the former captain of the ship, and now Maccabee’s executive officer. That was an unfortunate situation, and, though Maccabee could well understand any bitterness on Brenner’s part, he wished that he could have insisted on Samara in that position instead. That arrangement would have brought its own difficulties, naturally, but they were ones he’d definitely prefer.

“I am asking for that information, Chief,” Maccabee said, leaving his doubts about his XO for later. “Can you pull it up for me?”

“Sir,” said Kinte, turning to the holographic controls he’d been using with Brunje. A quick flick of his fingers, and the training program ended, bringing up a whole different schematic of displays and controls, all of them projected in the air above the station. Kinte’s hands moved quickly and without hesitation, and Maccabee took comfort in that, hoping it indicated less a lack of diligence and more a lack of specific preparation. Everyone took time to adjust to a new captain.

“Sir,” Kinte said after less than a minute of work. “Number one’s peak daily efficiency was eighty-two-point-two-five percent over the last week.” He grimaced. “I’m afraid I don’t have the system calibrated for a ten day average at the moment, but if you give me five minutes, I’ll correct that.”

“On your own time, Chief,” said Maccabee, frowning. “I’m more concerned with that number. This drive should peak out at closer to ninety percent.”

“Eighty-two is well within normal parameters, captain,” said Kinte, showing a depressing lack of initiative.

“That’s not what I said, Chief,” growled Maccabee. “For the next ten days, I want daily peaks and lows, daily averages, and gross actual output on this reactor and on numbers two and three. I expect improvement daily, and I would like to see peak averages above eighty-eight percent ten days from today.” He smiled at Kinte, who was looking considerably disturbed, even with his emotionless eyes. “I would suggest moving the ensigns training regime over to output for a while, Chief. Are we clear?”

“Sir, I would like. . . .”

Maccabee cut him off. “A simple yes or no will do, Chief.”

Kinte hesitated, but there was no real choice here. “Yes, sir!” he replied, swallowing his scowl.

“Excellent,” replied Maccabee. “Carry on.”

“Yes, sir!” Kinte snapped off a sharp salute. Maccabee stared at him for a moment, trying to decide if any reply was necessary, then decided against it. He’d pushed hard enough for today. He returned the salute, wheeled about, and strode out of the tank.

Just outside the open blast door, he found Ensign Brunje cooling her heels. She stiffened to attention when he stepped over the threshold, saluting again. Maccabee waved his hand in the direction of his head, tired of all this military pomposity, but knowing he couldn’t yet discard it. He started to walk past the ensign, then stopped, turning to face her. She paled, and froze on the spot.

“A moment of your time, ensign,” he said, keeping his voice low so it wouldn’t carry into the tank where Kinte was no doubt fuming.

“Sir!” she said.

“At ease,” he snapped, feeling irritable. He immediately regretted it, seeing the ensign wilt in front of him. No point in backtracking, though. That road just brought confusion. “Ensign, how long have you been with Phoenix?”

“Five months, sir,” she replied, still refusing to meet his eyes.

“And what. . . .” Maccabee stopped himself. He’d been about to ask what made Brunje join the rebellion, but that was an unfair question coming from her captain. It smacked of a loyalty test, or some other bullshit that Maccabee was not going to start, not on this ship. Instead, he said, “How do you like it so far? Is it everything you hoped?”

“Everything I hoped, sir?” she said, slowly looking up at him. There was that backbone he’d seen in the tank. “Sir, I’ve seen family and friends dragged off to prison for nothing more than a thought, a careless word. Some of those people never came back. I wonder if they’re dead, or just in some hole somewhere, sir.” She shook her head. “It’ll be everything I hope for when we hit them back. Sir.”

“Good,” said Maccabee, a smile coming to his lips. “That’s what I intend to do, ensign.” For a moment, then, they just stared into each other’s eyes, weighing the other person, judging character and intent. “Carry on, ensign,” said Maccabee, breaking the silence. “The Chief needs you in there.”

“Sir!” she said, smiling and carrying out another picture-perfect salute. Maccabee didn’t feel nearly as bad returning this one. He turned to watch her go, and felt a pang of. . . . Of what? Regret, perhaps, or guilt. He was building Brunje’s trust, her loyalty, hers and everyone else’s on this ship. And when the time came, he wouldn’t flinch to throw them into the grinder. Would he?

Maccabee headed forwards, down the narrow central corridor that linked the whole ship from stem to stern, then found the nearest ladder down and climbed it to Deck 4, the lowest in the ship, where there was little more than engineering space, storage, and weapons. That, and a contingent of commandos—twenty-four battle-hardened men and women assigned to the ship personally by General Arturo Hulegu. Maccabee threaded his way through a corridor that barely rated the name, a cramped space just high enough for him to stand, though he had to turn sideways to squeeze through the narrow bits. Finally, he reached a bulkhead pierced by a heavy, sealed hatch. Beyond, he knew, were the two holds where the commandos made their berth.

For a moment, Maccabee just stood there, waiting for something, waiting to make up his mind. Then, he reached out and rapped his knuckles on the hatch, sending a hollow, metallic echo reverberating through the bulkhead. He stepped back, straightened as best he could, and squared his shoulders.

The hatch was unsealed from the other side a moment later, the locking mechanism making a sharp clank as it snapped back. Someone inside pushed the heavy metal door open, and Maccabee saw a man dressed in a combat harness looking out, his face cold and blank. Seeing the captain standing there, the man came to attention, but did not salute. Maccabee took a deep breath and let it out. This was the game they wanted to play? But then something else happened, a move he wasn’t expecting.

“You salute when you see the captain,” growled a man’s voice from somewhere on the other side of the bulkhead. The soldier jumped as if he’d been prodded by a knife, and his hand came up against his temple, locking into a sharp, perfect salute. Maccabee took his time returning it. “Now, get your face out of his, and mine. We’ll have words later.”

His eyes on the overhead, the soldier snapped his hand to his side, spun on his heel, and stalked off. He was replaced a moment later by the broad-shouldered frame of Colonel Bren Jugnauth. Unlike his commando, Jugnauth saluted Maccabee without a moment’s pause, and Maccabee returned it similarly. He’d met Jugnauth only a handful of times, and only when he’d ventured down here, to the holds where the commandos kept to themselves, isolated from the crew of the Phoenix. Presumably, this self-segregation was on Jugnauth’s orders, but Maccabee didn’t understand it, didn’t understand the man opposite him. That made him nervous, because Jugnauth and his people would play a vital role in whatever happened to the ship.

“Captain,” said the Colonel, letting his hand drop. “What brings you?”

“Mind if we step inside?” said Maccabee. He felt at a distinct disadvantage stuffed into the narrow passageway.

“Course,” said Jugnauth, stepping aside, letting Maccabee duck through the hatch. On the other side, they were in a wider space, though still only two meters across. To port and starboard, more hatchways led through into the two holds where the commandos were housed. Maccabee knew the one to the right held the common space, the mess hall where the soldiers ate, the tiny gym where they stayed as fit as they could manage, the showers where they kept clean. . . . On the left, a wide open space filled with bunks and simple trunks for gear. There was one part of that hold sectioned off, just big enough for Jugnauth’s own bunk and his tiny desk. Maccabee hadn’t seen it, but he’d seen the specs when he came on board.

Two commandos, a man and a woman, stood just to Jugnauth’s side, hands clasped behind their backs, in combat harness like the man who’d opened the hatch for Maccabee, heavy three-millimeter railguns slung across their chests and smaller-caliber railpistols at their hips. Two other commandos, dressed in sweats and gym shoes, were walking across the corridor, talking with each other in low voices. They glanced up as Jugnauth closed the hatch behind Maccabee, and both saluted sharply. Whether the gesture was aimed at the colonel or the captain was unclear, and both returned it.

“Well, captain?” said Jugnauth. He was a big man, hung with ample muscle and fairly tall as well, though short of Maccabee’s height. Clean shaven, the midnight-dark skin of his skull bare, except for a ceremonial topknot tied with a red thong of leather that hung down the back of the man’s head and down between his shoulder blades. The others that Maccabee saw, men or women, kept their hair in a similar fashion, unusual but nothing stranger than a dozen other fashions he remembered from other days. Unlike the two commandos at his side, Jugnauth was dressed in a uniform of olive green highlighted with dark ruby red, the same kind that General Hulegu had worn when he’d come to recruit Maccabee for this job. Hard to believe that was only two weeks ago.

“We’re two days out from Dominion Rock,” said Maccabee, suddenly feeling like he shouldn’t have come at all.

“Less than, I’d guess,” said Jugnauth, crossing his heavy arms and leaning back against the bulkhead. The butt of the service pistol he wore at his hip thunked against the metal.

“Right,” said Maccabee. “And your people? They’re ready?”

“Undoubtedly,” replied Jugnauth with pure certainty. “Though unless you’re changing the plan, I don’t recall them being a part.” A wolfish smile spread his lips, revealing teeth stained reddish-brown by something. Coffee?

“No plan is perfect,” said Maccabee. “I’m sure you know that, colonel. A man with your experience, your years in the job. Your file reads like a history of every major conflict the PARC’s had for the last four decades.”

“Glad you read it,” Jugnauth said. “My people are ready, captain,” he went on, pushing his shoulders back so the rest of his body came upright from the bulkhead. “I’d be more worried about yours, I were you.” He turned as if to walk away.

“Don’t,” said Maccabee, and the snap in his tone stopped Jugnauth dead. The other man turned back around to face him, and Maccabee could almost see the anger behind the man’s carefully controlled eyes. One of the two commandos standing with him, the woman, looked at her leader out of the corners of her eyes, then to Maccabee. Only two of them watching, but all of them would hear about this exchange. Jugnauth and Maccabee stared each other down in silence.

Then, the jump siren rang, sudden and sharp, and everyone reached for a handhold without even thinking about it, instinct bred of long weeks on board ship taking over. They had just enough time to grab on, and then Phoenix hit her transition, hard, and the corridor seemed to twist, metal ripping from metal as a shockwave propagated through the hull, seams popping, conduits snapping like brittle sticks, and then BOOM! A bang echoed through the entire hull as they dropped out of the wormhole.

Maccabee straightened with difficulty, caught Jugnauth’s eye and nodded. Bad transition, for certain. He looked around, but the corridor was in one piece, though the nightmare hallucination—hallucination or alternate reality?—kept superimposing its vision of destruction over the scene, so Maccabee had to blink and blink again, hard, to clear his eyes.

“Captain to the bridge,” came the call over the intercom. “All hands to stations. Captain to the bridge.”

Damn. Coming up to his full height, taking advantage of the fact that he seemed to be recovering from the jump faster than Jugnauth, Maccabee said, “I’ll want you on the bridge for the last jump in-system, colonel.”

“Captain,” said the other man, nodding his head, still holding on to the grab bar welded to the bulkhead. Someone in one of the holds was moaning.

“Tend to your people, colonel,” said Maccabee, and he turned away and opened the hatch, letting himself out the way he’d come. It was a longer route this way to the bridge, but less time inside the commandos’ home. Better to make a dramatic exit. Now, all he had to do was find out what the hell was wrong with his ship.

He climbed the ladder two steps at a time, tapping into his personal com as he went. “Samara,” he said, “Are you all right?”

“Been better,” she drawled. “What’s going on?”

“I want you on the bridge,” he said, turning on Deck 3 and pushing his way forward past the rush of crewmen and women on their way to their posts. “Get Sel, too.”

“On my way,” she replied, then cut the signal.

It took less than a hundred seconds for Maccabee to reach the bridge. The blast door was still open, so at least the ship wasn’t about to explode. Commander Brenner was already there, sitting in the command chair, and he only climbed out of it when Maccabee stepped up beside him, and then slowly. No time for dealing with that now, though.

“Report,” Maccabee snapped, dropping into the chair and spinning it so he faced forwards. The holo tank was showing an exploded schematic of the Phoenix, and red flashes were highlighting the gravity drive, as well as one of the dedicated secondary reactors. Maccabee felt his stomach sink, but if the reactor had gone runaway, they’d already be dead.

“R-Two scrammed during alpha transition, sir,” said Brenner pointing to the starboard pocket reactor on the holo. “The automatics held us together, but Harvey says we nearly lost coherence for a minute there, captain.”

“The drive?” he asked, ignoring the sick feeling in his stomach. He heard someone coming into the bridge behind him, glanced over his shoulder, and saw Samara, her face the expressionless mask she wore into combat. She wore loose pants and heavy spacer boots, a plain, grey tank, and twin railpistols at her waist. Brenner saw her too, and his lips pressed into a straight line. “Brenner!”

“Sir,” he said, jumping. “Diagnostics are reading in the green, but Chief Kinte is doing a manual check right now.”

“Good,” said Maccabee. A reactor they could live without. The Kellerman Drive was the only thing keeping them from a very long ride home indeed. “Casualties?”

“Only one report so far, captain,” said Lieutenant Ganda from her station. “One of the commandos fell during transition, hit his head. Oburu is down there now, sir.”

Maccabee nodded. Oburu was the Phoenix’s medic—they didn’t rate a full doctor on a ship this small, but the man seemed competent. Now was his chance to prove it.

“Any idea what happened, people?” asked Maccabee, his heartbeat starting to slow. It looked like this wasn’t over yet. “Harvey?” He hated asking the damn machine, but it was smarter than any of them, in its own way.

“None of my hypotheses have met the available data set, captain,” said Harvey, his voice speaking from all around them. Maccabee felt his skin crawl, though he’d spoken to enough A.I.s in his day. Some of them had been his friends. None of them had controlled his destiny and his life as totally as Harvey could. “Closest fit so far is a simple wormhole instability triggered by the same plasma instability that initiated the scramble on Reactor Two.”

“Anyone else?”

“That would be consistent with most models, sir,” said Massat Sel. Maccabee spun his chair and smiled at the small man in greeting. It was good to have him and Samara both on the bridge, their familiar faces comforting. “It’s highly unlikely, though. All reactors automatically throttle down to minimum output during transition.” Sel’s eyes were hidden behind a pair of heavy, black glasses that curved around the side of his head. No one knew for sure what those glasses did, but there was no doubt they were linked into the man’s brain. Otherwise, Sel was as non-descript as a man could be, his face an enigmatic mixture of all lineages and none, his body of medium height and build, his clothing plain and grey and unadorned. Unlike Samara, Sel was not armed.

“Harvey?” asked Brenner. “Was that the case?”

“Reactor Two was operating at sixty-two percent during the alpha transition, commander,” replied the computer’s androgynous voice. Man or woman, it was a mellow tone, which made the whole thing that much more disturbing. “Normal minimum is ten percent.”

Maccabee tapped a control on his command chair, activating the com system. “Chief Kinte, this is the captain, please come in.”

“Sir,” said a woman’s voice. “This is ensign Brunje, captain. The Chief’s inside the starboard grav housing, sir. I can relay for you.”

Maccabee nodded. The grav housing, where the ship’s gravity generators were stored, were heavily shielded for just this sort of reason. No communications signal short of a wire would reach inside the housing. “Very well, ensign,” he said. “Please ask the Chief why R-Two was at sixty-two percent during our transition.”

“Sir?” asked Brunje. “I’m sorry sir, but that’s impossible.”

“Not according to Harvey’s records, ensign,” growled Maccabee. “Ask the question!”

“Sir!” said Brunje. Maccabee could picture her running to ask the Chief. As they waited, he looked over his shoulder and caught Samara’s eye. He glanced down at her holstered weapons, then back up at her face, and she nodded, no hint of an emotion disturbing her cool. Maccabee looked front again, and a moment later he heard Samara leave the bridge.

“This is Chief Kinte, captain,” came the man’s familiar voice. “What is your questions?”

“I’m sure Brunje relayed it to you exactly as I told it to her, Chief,” replied Maccabee icily. “Why was R-Two not at minimum throttle for the transition?”

“My apologies to the ensign, captain,” said Kinte, and he sounded at last like his calm was being flustered. “Sir, I am standing at a panel outside R-Two’s tank. My records here indicate that the reactor was throttled to ten percent during the jump. What it doesn’t explain is why it would have scrammed, were that the case.”

“Harvey,” said Maccabee, his voice calm even though he felt like someone had just punched him. “Why do your records and the Chief’s not agree?”

“I am equipped with a redundant sensor network throughout the ship and its major systems, captain,” replied the A.I. with colossal unconcern.

“Was anyone aware of that fact?” asked Maccabee, his voice flat with anger. No one answered. “Harvey?”

“None of the personnel on board were notified of the secondary network, captain.” Maccabee felt his skin crawl. Just what else did the A.I. know that it wasn’t saying? And what was it listening in on with this system?

“Why not, Harvey?” asked Brenner. “Why wasn’t I informed when I was captain?”

“I had orders to only disclose the information under circumstances like this one, commander,” replied the computer.

“Orders from whom?” Maccabee asked.

“I am not allowed to divulge that information, captain.”

There was a cold silence on the bridge, then. Maccabee didn’t know what to say or do next, had no idea how to respond to this revelation, to the realization that he was not the master of this ship after all.

“Sir,” said Sel softly, “if I may?”

Maccabee looked up at the other man, but the black glasses revealed nothing. “Yes,” he said.

“Harvey,” Sel said immediately, “is Protocol Two still active?”

“Affirmative, Mister Sel,” answered the A.I. It’s tone and timbre never modulated, never changed.

“Please delete subroutine Echo-Four-Seven-Two-Four,” instructed Sel.

“Authorization for deletion must be given by the captain,” said Harvey.

“No!” said Brenner. “You can’t just. . . .” He waved a hand in the air. “I refuse to let this man play around with our computer, captain.”

“Not up to you, Brenner,” said Maccabee. “Harvey, I authorize deletion as per Mister Sel’s instructions.”

“Deletion initiated,” said Harvey. Brenner threw his hands in the air in disgust.

“You’re relieved, commander,” growled Maccabee. “Return to your quarters until I call for you.” He looked back away from the man for a moment, but Brenner did not move. Finally, Maccabee returned his gaze to the commander. “Don’t make me repeat myself.”

Brenner saluted in cold silence, spun on his heel and marched off the bridge.

“Sel,” said Maccabee as soon as the commander was out the blast doors, “what did I just do to the A.I.?”

“Nothing serious, sir,” said Sel, crouching down beside Maccabee’s chair. “However, deleting that particular subroutine will occupy all of Harvey’s processing power. . . .” He glanced up at the chrono at the top of the holo tank. “For the next thirty seconds, approximately.”

“Why?”

“So I could tell you, sir, that Protocol Two is the one that absolutely forbids Harvey from harming any of us, whatever his other orders might be. If it’s still active, no hidden routine or instructions could possibly bypass it. There’s no contingency that can be built into this particular A.I. that would allow such an event to occur.”

“So, the thing’s not going to kill us,” said Maccabee.

“Not directly, captain,” said Sel. “I suggest we do out best to discover just what other orders may be hidden in Harvey’s systems.”

“Deletion complete,” said Harvey a second later. Maccabee tried not to flinch. Could the A.I. still access recordings of these proceedings? Probably.

“I recommend reinstallation of that subroutine, captain,” said Sel calmly.

“Harvey, I authorize reinstallation of the subroutine,” said Maccabee.

“Installation beginning,” replied Harvey.

Maccabee sighed. This was going to be an interesting trip indeed.