Chapter 46

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Amidst the wreckage of the control room, now silent and almost deserted, three figures stood at the helm-console.  Faces grave, they contemplated the assorted display screens and control panels.  The figure in the middle scratched his head.

"How about if I push the red button?"

Cam was so intent on the console that he missed the look that passed between EJ and Flenson (it was testament to the Rigellian's last few days that upon being told the baristas' hard-hatted companion was actually a human-AI hybrid in hologrammatic form, he had filed that nugget of information firmly in the 'meh' category).

"Well," he said, in his most diplomatic voice, "if you do, at least we'll have a nice clear view of the Earth, as it rushes towards us."

"Huh?"

"That's the button for the windscreen wipers."

Cam nodded.  "Right.  Well, how about this switch?"

"Headlights," replied EJ.  "Look, while there's a statistical, non-zero possibility that randomly pushing buttons and flicking switches might start the engines, there's actually a slightly higher chance of you spontaneously mutating into a ferret."

Cam hadn't survived a long-term relationship with Mel without developing expertly honed selective hearing skills.  "So it might work?  Awesome.  How about—"

"Cam,"—Flenson placed his hand on the barista's shoulder—"if our best technicians gave up on restarting the engines, without even trying, what hope do you think you really have?  Come on, I've saved you a spot on a shuttle.  There's no point in you dying along with the rest of your planet.  What EJ is saying, in his own special way, is that we're not going to achieve anything useful here."

"Actually," protested EJ, "l'm not.  What I'm actually saying is that there's a basketball's chance in hell of Cam achieving anything useful.  That's why it's my turn to try.  I'm going to interface with the station's central AI and see if I can get the engines back on that way."

"What, now?" queried Cam.  "Aren't you busy flying the other guys around, on their capsule hunt?"

"Oh, please—you think I can't do both?  Pfft.  My processing capacity is in the zettaflops.  My computational ability is beyond your comprehension.  Your human brain could not even begin to grasp the fantastical complexity of my neural networks.  You would not believe just how much I'm capable of."

"Can you take off your hat?"

"What?  Of course I...but..."  The hologram gave a rueful smile.  "Soufflé."

"'Soufflé'?"  Cam smiled back.  "Do you mean 'touché'?"

"Um, yeah.  Anyway, my point is, that while I may not be perfect, I'm certainly quite capable of remotely piloting multiple spaceships, while simultaneously conducting high-level negotiations with a super-advanced AI system."

Cam's face did not radiate confidence.  "If you say so.  And do you think it'll work?  Do you think you can get the engines back on?"

"Well, it won't be easy, but don't worry—I'll pull out the old EJ charm."

"The old EJ charm, huh?"  With a tired sigh, Cam flopped into the helm-console's chair.  "We are so screwed."

"

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