Condition Black

“General Quarters! General Quarters! All hands man your battle stations, this is not a drill. Set condition Black throughout the ship!” The 1MC crackled and sparked to life as the ship’s AI hologram gave the order. I unceremoniously cleared my workstations by dumping the contents of my desk into stowable bins and slammed the emergency lock-out button on my way out of the medical bay, void-hardening my workstation. The acceleration chambers for medical personnel were on the same deck as the med bay, leaving me little time to dread what was coming.

Void combat is hell on your mind and body, and it hurts the whole time. It is not the G forces that get to you, you can’t feel those while you are embalmed with Plasticine, but rather it’s the black void that swallows your mind as your neural processes are commandeered to fight the ship. The experience is haunting and lasts for an eternity… Well, it feels like an eternity. It actually lasts approximately one trillion times longer than the battle itself – an eternity for all intents and purposes. It sounds horrible on paper, but the parts of you that make you “You” are gone, and the memories of the experience fade quickly, probably for the best. One hundred billion years is a long time to commune with the universe.

The other two ship’s Corpsmen were already in the preparation chamber preparing our acceleration tanks for muster.

“Chief, all hands present and accounted for, integration tests complete and ready for condition black.” Voidsman Third Class Perez reported.

“Good” I replied, “get saddled up, I’ll report the roll.”

The two Corpsmen began to undress, exposing the human-interface ports along their back and neck. The rest of the ships non-combat rates began to enter the preparation chamber as I reported our status to the computer. After quick hand off to the ship’s AI, I climbed into my pod. It will take several minutes before we enter void conditions. The gunner and bridge crews have a more complicated process for condition black, they need to be semi-conscious to make timely decisions in battle. Us non-combat essential folks are just put away for the fight. There isn’t a whole lot of good medical personnel can do when everyone is locked in a titanium box, pumped full of embalming resin, with all hatches sealed and the corridors exposed to the vacuum.

That’s not to say that us non-combat rates aren’t utilized during the fight, but our role is that of a processor to offload some of the computational complexity of the battle. The ship “steers” itself through the battlespace by way of warping space-time with dense negative energy fields, creating localized singularities for us to orbit and fall towards. Planning trajectories through normal space lanes can be calculated in advance, but the quick revisions required to react to incoming relativistic projectiles requires every spare brain cell aboard the ship.

“All hands, this is your Captain speaking” the 1MC reported. “The Terran Confederacy has breached Jovian space and intercepted our course to the Jovian system. Sensors indicate they are a Mass Drive capable ship in direct violation of the Terran Accords. Expect no quarter or mercy from these defectors, we must assume they are after our Negative-Point energy reactors. Gunners and Bridge Crew report when ready, prepare for condition black.”

The lid to my acceleration pod slid shut with an electronic hum sealing me into my chamber like a coffin. “Initiating Human-Interface connections” the ship’s AI reported. I hear the familiar clicks as the magnetic couplers connect to the ports along my back, neck, and arms. My circulatory system is handed over to the dialysis machine in my pod, oxygenating and circulating my blood. The neural interface begins to scan my neurophysiology and runs preliminary integration metrics to best utilize my neuro capacities in its own registers. I grit my teeth, preparing for what comes next.

The pain is sharp, instant, and wracking as I am pumped full of Plasticene. My stomach, intestines, colon, gallbladder, bile ducts, bladder, and lungs are filled directly from the ports on my back. The intensity of the pain ramps up to the point where all experience but pain melts away.

Then comes the darkness. Total and complete darkness. My body, pod, ship, and Self melt into one infinitesimally small point, then explodes outward. The fabric of space-time itself becomes my body as I inhale pulsars and taste the interstellar medium. All senses merge into a singular experience of cosmic proportion as the data comes pouring in. You don’t get to make choices in this state, you just exist there and let the experience wash over you. Conditioning during training encoded a set of instructions in our neural pathways, simple operations that can be done in parallel with other members of the human mind register. We experience the data coming in and react to it as our instruction sets dictate, one bit at a time. The data coming in is meaningless to us in the pods, just random lights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings. The output of our work is felt in the same way, twitches, heat, and flashes of induced emotion. It is all meaningless to us in the pods but interpreted by the computer as computational results. Time loses meaning quickly, and within moments “You” are gone and replaced with pure experience. You will eventually compute teraflops worth of data during battle, but the human mind processes the experience at about sixty bits per second, meaning one hour will seem to last on ten times longer than the universe has even existed, subjectively. Fortunately, there is no one in me aware enough to dwell on the eternity expanding out before me.

Coming out of the register is as harsh as entering. You go from a cosmic perspective to inky black nothingness in an instant. As I become aware of my “self” again, fear only has a moment to grip me before the ship’s AI activates my grounding simulation. Soft music fills my auditory sense, and soft white light fills my visual space from the bottom up. The familiar routine pulls me back from the verge of panic. I remain motionless and calm as I wait for the radiation to flood my acceleration pod, liquifying the Plasticene so it can be pulled from my organs. The evacuation process is just as painful as the embalming process, and by the time it is complete, only fragments of memory remain from the encapsulation.

“Medical personnel report to stations. Code Blue in bays 111, 312, and 501. Triage teams report to decks 1, 3, and 5. I say again…”

As the last of the Plasticene is pumped from my body the lid to my pod slides open while the 1MC repeats its tinny drone.

“Ok then,” I think to myself, “time to go to work.”

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