What do you make of human-machine interfaces? Many SF books and films feature such things. This could be a glove or VR helmet of some kind used to control a drone, either for spying or, more usually, shooting at stuff. It could be a full-body connection like those where a human being is almost completely subsumed in a spaceship, for instance. And everything in between. The common link here, and some would say the weakest, is the human being at the centre of it all. At this point my mind, as it often does, dropped into the gutter and I began thinking about all that genetic baggage we humans have to drag around with us.
* * *
Dylan was the lowest ranking member of the ship’s crew. Technically, he was a maintenance engineer, one of several who helped keep the ship functional. He cleaned and tidied the ship, refilled the soap dispensers and replenished the toilet rolls. When someone made a mess, he tidied it up. When they were ill all over the floor, he cleared it away. When the other maintenance crew members left corrosive fluids sloshing around, he put on a hazmat suit and removed it. In other words, he was a cleaner.
The rest of the crew treated him with due respect and acknowledged his job was simple but critical, mainly because they didn’t want to do it themselves. He might have been the lowest ranking, but he was one of the most important. He had a task only he could do, one the captain valued very highly.
The captain himself was often heard giving orders over the ship’s comm system but was very rarely seen. This spaceship was an armed military vessel, so AI control was forbidden. Only a human, the people of Earth decided, could make moral decisions. So, he spent most of his time in a special chamber, connected into the ship via an implant that was wired directly into his brain. This could only be done at a special facility, so the captain was loaded into the ship like the other cargo. Although augmented by the technology that surrounded him, the captain was literally the brains of the ship. When fully connected, he was the ship, he saw what it saw, heard what it heard and felt every impact as they collided with space debris.
Dylan pushed his heavy cart along the corridor and into a large open space. This was part of the engineering section, although what happened here Dylan had no clue. He stopped and applied the brakes, then removed a heavy motor unit from the cart. With practised ease, he attached a handle to the motor unit, flipped it over and stuck a buffing pad to the lower disk. To this, he applied a waxy compound that smelled of lavender and citrus, because even on a spaceship, things need to smell clean.
Even though the ship was hundreds of metres long and capable of travelling at a large fraction of light speed, it contained no power outlets. So, this particular buffing machine was powered by a battery, which could be recharged in a special docking port. With everything prepared, Dylan righted the machine and switched it on. The disk began to turn as he pulled the handle. The smell intensified as he made his first pass, spreading the wax all over the floor. As he worked, he increased the speed of the machine and began to concentrate on one particular area. After a few minutes, the intercom activated and a breathy voice said “Oh yes, right there. Faster, faster.”
Dylan increased the speed of the buffing machine as high as it would go, putting as much weight against it as he could manage in the artificial gravity.
“That’s it, yeah,” the captain moaned. “A bit to the left, up a bit, that’s it. Yes, oh yes.”
The buffing machine ground on for a few more minutes and then the captain shouted, “probes launching, probes launching! Probes launched!”
Dylan let the machine run a few more seconds and then switched it off. The floor was polished to a mirror shine now, so he began to pack the buffing machine away.
The intercom came on again and the captain said, “Thanks Dylan, same time next week?”
“Of course, captain, anything for you.” Dylan smiled.
The captain might have been a spaceship, but he was only human.