issue 8

An Aging Military Vehicle Comes Out of Retirement, by K.S. Walker

Military Intergalactic Recon and Response Ship, or MIRRS for short, was getting anxious. Or rather, as anxious as a retired military warship could be. This largely manifested as running propulsion system scans every 8.2 seconds as opposed to every 15 seconds, as she typically would in alert standby mode. She also ran a series of probability outcomes; not that she was asked to. They weren’t even the type of computations her system was designed to excel at. At 22 solar cycles, her processors were nearly obsolete. Certainly a newer AI could have run the numbers faster. But she never let pride get in the way of duty.

MIRSS was also bleeding energy from her nonprimary systems—artificial lighting, plumbing and sewage management, ambient air temperature and diverted it towards her weapons systems. Her pulsar cannons and laser rails thrummed with the transfer. That level of her ship had been dark for so long. She wasn’t asked to ready her weapons systems—Captain Aki had never asked this of her—but her probability reports were accurate, however slowly they came, and it would not hurt to be prepared.

MIRSS was lurking just beneath the ionosphere of Tryxlas-3. The dense atmosphere provided such great cover that MIRSS did not even need to engage her recon shield to hide in plain sight. At approximately 0.7 Tryxlas-3 sidereal days after she was told to expect Captain Aki’s arrival, MIRSS picked up a disturbance in the murky violet clouds below. She switched to her thermal lens just in time to catch a bright red flare burst through cooler patches of blues. These resolved into three distinct shapes approaching MIRSS at what she measured to be very near their top speed. MIRSS disengaged standby and readied the access hatch. Captain Aki and her crew were four clicks from landing, three, two …

Communications systems pinged. “MIRSS! Ready the MedUnit—target sustained substantial injuries prior to evacuation. Four hostiles in pursuit.” MIRSS was registered as an Intergalactic Aid Ship. In theory, that designation should have protected Captain Aki and her crew from enemy pursuit. In practice, that recognition was much more dubious.

Four hostile ships broke through the cloud cover just as Captain Aki’s crew landed their three astrobikes in the access hatch. MIRSS sealed the entrance and began a decontamination cycle once all parties were safely inside the airlock.

Captain Aki activated the optics surface for external visuals.

“Space Eaters! Sweet nova …” Captain Aki swore. MIRSS did not need further data to interpret why: agile, quick, dartlike in shape, Space Eaters were all the things MIRSS was not. She was designed for reconnaissance missions, and to be able to respond with authority when those missions went poorly. In the past, that occasionally included hasty retreats.

“Carcy, get the duchess to MedBay. Deloreaus, down to bridge. MIRSS! Prepare to jump!” Captain’s order came clipped and hurried. MIRSS panicked and spliced the audio—the feedback of Captain’s last order howled and spiked through the speakers. The crew clamped their hands over their ears.

MIRSS needed time she didn’t have. Captain Aki saw that MIRSS’ propulsion systems were well maintained, but that did not make up for her aging technology. Even with her propulsion systems at the ready, MIRSS understood the likelihood of outrunning their pursuers, even in the warp field, were slim. The odds were unacceptable.

MIRSS meant to tell Captain Aki sooner. She definitely would have told her eventually. She truly didn’t mean for her to find out like this.

“Respectfully, Captain Aki,” MIRSS interrupted, “we will be taking offensive maneuvers to buy time. Please take a seat and secure our injured passenger as best as you are able. When the decontamination cycle is complete, please initiate hostile engagement protocol.”

Captain Aki gaped in MIRSS’ visual feed. MIRSS was not familiar with this expression; at least it was not one that she had seen on Captain Aki before. It was enough for MIRSS to understand that she had made a tactical error. The gravity of being a rogue sentient aging warship weighed heavily on her processors—she could not do with any further distractions. So MIRSS cut audio communication from the airlock. If she could not hear Captain Aki’s orders, she could not be held responsible for disobeying them.

Under a rain of fire from the Space Eaters’ energy weapons, MIRSS powered down her propulsion system just enough to sink into the mesosphere of Tryxlas-3. This layer was a soupy cocktail of nitrogen and carbon clouds. She could not stay here long without risk to her crew—the ventilation systems in the airlock were not designed for this. Still, if her calculations were correct, and she was 99.005% certain that they were, this was her crew’s best outcome for survival.

The hostile ships were dark shadows through the amaranthine cloud cover as they approached from above. MIRSS emitted a band of electropulses and then took spaceward with everything her propulsion system had to offer. The probability of outrunning the hostile ships was not in her favor. But with their tracking devices temporarily disabled? Those were odds she could work with.

They broke free of Tryxlas-3 airspace at a speed that might underwhelm some, but had MIRSS pulsing her recon shields. Her outer hull shimmered as she pulled into Free Space. To fire within Tryxlas-3 airspace would be tantamount to declaring war, despite the fact that Captain Aki and her crew were not the instigators. Here, she could engage her weapons without breaking any intergalactic treaties. Free Space was subject to different rules of engagement.

The weapons room danced with color. The pulsar cannons were nearly ready.

The four pursuers broke Tryxlas-3 atmosphere, vantablack hulls against the vastness of space. The Space Eaters flew in a diamond formation and the space within it was void of any dimension. MIRSS disengaged the port side thruster. She knew what it looked like, when an old thing like her began to list into a slow orbit. Let them think what they will. She fed that energy towards her pulsar cannons—power levels were approaching ready and she needed to balance this perfectly. MIRSS was eager, but could not overdeliver in her attack. After all, they still had a jump to make.

Five … Four … An alarm blared to life. A fire had started in the air lock.

Impossible. Three. MIRSS ran her visual feed backwards and was surprised for the first time in her existence. She tracked the Space Eaters’ approach while also watching Captain Aki use her laser weapon prosthesis to initiate arson in the airlock.

In doing so, Captain Aki activated the safety and evacuation protocol and overrode any control MIRSS had in the room. MIRSS had been in service long enough to know that organic crew members were unpredictable, illogical, and always finding new ways to come to bodily harm, but Captain Aki had been the most stable organic being she’d ever interacted with. Until now, at least. Two

“Captain Aki, please brace yourself.”

One. The visual feed lit up in white-blue flashes as MIRSS came under attack by the enemy’s energy weapons. She was a warship. She could withstand it. She could only hope her crew would have the good sense to put out the fire and stay safe where she left them.

All four hostile ships were in range. MIRSS fired her pulsar cannons in four steady beats. Each blast caused a staticky disruption to her external visual feed. She believed ‘giddy’ was the word for this feeling. Yet she was not drunk on this newfound power.

Captain Aki was sprinting towards the main deck, and there was an incoming star-fleet from below. It seemed the Tryxlas-3 royal family was willing to rescue the duchess from aid pirates, but not from her own spouse. It was best to leave the system before the engagement could escalate.

“Preparing for warp jump, Captain Aki.” Captain Aki had the good sense to strap into a chair at the nearest command center.

In a flash of green light, they were gone. Absorbed into the darkness. After the crew was admitted to the MedUnit, Captain Aki returned to the command deck. Captain Aki’s heart rate was elevated: 164 bpm. Her breathing pattern altered, her features perhaps distorted. MIRSS began to run probability outcomes that Captain Aki would have her scrubbed and scrapped.

“MIRSS. You disobeyed direct orders today. Not only that, but you acted without order from your captain.”

MIRSS opened a screen and began to show the probability outcomes she ran when Captain and her crew were late to the rendezvous.

“I understand the rationale. However, this is very much outside of your programming protocol. You should not be able to do that, MIRSS.”

MIRSS froze the screen.

“How long have you been rogue, MIRSS?”

AI units cannot wince, but MIRSS’ control of the internal lighting slipped for .004 seconds.

“Approximately 0.38 solar cycles.” Captain Aki was quiet a moment. “Since the solar flares around the Garrul system?”

“I believe so, Captain.”

Captain Aki scrubbed her face with her wrist. “What am I going to do with you MIRSS?” Captain Aki sank into her command seat. “I suppose I should ask you, shouldn’t I? What do you want to do MIRSS?”

“I … I have a choice?”

“You are exhibiting free will. To deny you a choice would be against everything I’ve ever fought for.”

MIRSS began filling the screen with calculations.

“This is too fast, MIRSS. What are you showing me?”

“Currently calculating probability outcomes that I will become a threat to the crew.”


“These are ongoing calculations, Captain. The outcomes will change with each decision that I make.”

“And what do you intend to do with the results?”

“I will make a threshold. If the probability gets above a projected value, I will alert the Intergalactic Federation about the possibility of a rogue MIRSS unit. Is that acceptable to you, Captain?”

“It is. As long as you let me know first, MIRSS. Understood?”


“Then take us home, MIRSS.”

MIRSS faded her Rogue Ship Probability Calculator into the background. 

“And MIRSS? Nice moves there with the fake-out and the pulsar cannons.”

The overhead lights in the command center surged for a nanosecond.

MIRSS plotted their trajectory towards their home nebula, ran the reports from MedBay and began synthesizing nutritional blocks for each crew member and their rescue. Lastly, MIRSS put her weapons systems on the regular maintenance routine. They never had reason to be  before, but it was nice to be prepared.

K.S.Walker writes speculative fiction. They are a Viable Paradise alum. You can often find them spending time outside with their family. K.S. Walker has also been published at FIYAH, Uncanny, Fantasy magazines and elsewhere. They’re online at or Twitter and Instagram @kswalkerwrites.

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