What do you mean the humans pilot their own ships?

## Click here to hear a narration of this story!

“Ah, Science Officer Kren, I was just on my way to see you.”

Lieutenant Kren looked up from his data slate as he heard the ships Chief Engineer approach. Kren got up from all fours and sat back on his haunches in parade rest and greeted the Commander.

“At ease Lieutenant” Commander Sada said, sitting back on his haunches and rolling his forward joints with exhaustion. “I’ve read your preliminary report on the human fighter craft we recovered from the battle over Antares Four, I have a few questions if you don’t mind?”

“Yes, Commander, I thought you might have some questions. I suppose you want to know about the human remains we recovered?” Kren replied, relaxing his torso allowing his fore paws to rest between his back paws. His tail curled around his legs in a relaxed sign of respect.

“Indeed Lieutenant, what were humans doing amongst the wreckage?” Sada asked, mimicking Kren’s posture.

“Well, it seems that the humans weren’t just among the wreckage Commander; they were the wreckage” said Kren, leaning forward a bit as he spoke.

Sada blinked at him, “You’re going to have to explain that one, how did we recover human remains? I didn’t see reports of escape craft in the wreckage.”

“No Commander, the human remains were found in the fighters.” Kren pulled his large, pointed ears back conspiratorially, “The humans were piloting them.”

“The humans were wha- how?” Sada stammered. “Actually, pin in that, the report said two humans recovered, how many ships?”

“Seven,” Kren replied, “two of which contained humans.” Kren leaned back and relaxed.

“Two human… pilots. I don’t understand-” Sada sat back on his haunches and pulled his data slate from his pocket. “I saw the initial specifications of the crafts; they were too small for a bridge let alone a bridge crew.” Commander Sada began to consult his data slate trying to remember the relative size of a human, the whiskers on his short snout twitched from side to side.

“Sir, the bridges of the fighter craft were sized to fit only a single human. I believe the pilot was the bridge crew. Captain, tactical officer, engineer, and helmsman… it flies the craft by itself.”

Sada looked up sharply, his pupils expanding in shock. “But- why? If their math and science is advanced enough to calculate trajectories through warp gates, then surely they can build an AI to handle ship to ship combat like every other civilized species.”

“Oh, they have AI piloted ships sir,” Kren replied. “Five of the ships recovered have no accommodations made for a human pilot. The feeds recovered from the battle show that the human-piloted ship variants were accompanied by a squadron of AI fighters each.”

None of this made any sense to Sada. Humans are known for their effectiveness at war, and for jealousy protecting their territory and people. Since the humans have never lost a battle, their combat technology is largely uncategorized, though much can be deduced from their defense against the Canin. Much is still unknown about their society since they so recently discovered FTL, but the way they reacted when the Canin bombarded their worlds from orbit… “If they have the technology… why risk their people in direct combat this way?” Sada asked.

“I was wondering the same thing myself Commander, I did a little digging but haven’t found much yet. Though it turns out human bodies have been discovered in the aftermath of their ground assault forces too.”

“They fight personally, in terrestrial battles, in person?” Sada was shocked, and the fur standing up along his tail and spine betrayed that.

“Yes sir, the “Marines” we classified as synthetic life forms were actually humans clad in armor.”

“Clad in armor… I would say “how quaint”, but having studied their prowess in battle…”

“Yes sir, their efficacy makes more sense with this context.”

Sada pulled a cleansing cloth from his pocket and placed in on the back of his paw, he used this to flatten his fur and clean his whiskers. “It’s a bit barbaric though, isn’t it? Force your soldiers to perform or die in the line of duty?” Sada shuddered thinking about how he would respond in direct ship to ship combat, or what he’d do if one of his comrades were killed in battle.

“I’m not sure if a fear motivator completely explains their skill in battle,” Kren replied, inspired to clean his own fur, “however I’m sure it doesn’t hurt. It would certainly explain their creativeness and aggression in the battle space. No AI system could perform as well as a sentient being in direct control without subspace lag.”

Sada thought about this for a moment. “It would also explain why no one’s intercepted subspace battle commands before an attack” he said finally.

“On that note sir, we have finished reverse engineering the ships communication systems…”

“Let me guess, no subspace, so tight-beam IR?” Sada said as he got up and padded slowly over to the viewing port in the rec bay.

“Exactly sir.” Kren replied as he followed Sada over to the port, looking through the transparent metal at the stars beyond.

“I mean, it’s a far cry less advanced than quantumly entangled subspace missives, but if they are careful about leakage then I suppose it’s effective for short range communications… I’m looking forward to the rest - wait. Humans can only withstand, what? One hundred Gs of acceleration? Those fighters were easily doing four or five times that.”

Kren looked up to the rest platforms and hammocks above the agility course, across to the ambush simulators, and over to the nail pruning stations in the rec room. They were alone. “Humans should only be able to handle up to about twenty Gs before death is expected, Sir. And yes, they were performing four to five hundred G maneuvers during combat.” Kren leaned in conspiratorially again. “The humans we found however, well, we’ve never seen anything like it…”

“How so?” Sada asked intently.

“Well sir, they were both integrated into their ships in a strange way. We are still dissecting the bodies, but, well it’s more like excavation than dissection at this point.”

Sada stared blankly at Kren.

Kren continued, “Sir, the humans we recovered were encased in a hard substrate. This substrate permeates their bodies to an absurd degree. Each cell of their body is completely solid, as if they were saturated with complex polymers that had suddenly hardened.”

Sada shifted his four paws uncomfortably.

“There are connections and ports along the exteriors of their bodies that connect to their internal organs, including the central nervous system and brainstem. I believe the humans use these ports to inject a stabilizer into their bodies to support their hollow spaces from the G-forces the pilots must experience and interface with their fighter craft directly though the electrical impulses of their brain!”

“That’s… that’s barbaric!” Sada couldn’t believe what he was hearing, the humans were willing to mutilate themselves? For what? To save a few milliseconds of communications lag?

“The humans- the human physiology isn’t that different from ours.” Sada said. “They have internal organs to distribute vital elements and molecules for biotic processes. I know for a fact they can’t survive without their… their, whatever you call their lungs.”

“Correct sir, but they appear to offload these functions to their ship’s life support systems while they are piloting.”

“I… just don’t…” Sada’s data slate chirped with a message for him, it was time for his meeting with his department heads.

“Sir, I’m expecting to finish up the report by next cycle, do you want to meet for a lap to discuss it further?” Kren asked.

“Sure Lieutenant… Though I might have to get started on that drink early.” Sada purred in reply.

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