“I’m still not sure why I’m here,” Dave said.
“Continuity of leadership,” I began, “because you’re my likely successor if I manage to cheeseburger myself to an early death, because the ship essentially flies itself so we know you can’t possibly be busy ‘navigating’, because I’m a sadist. Pick.”
“He’s cranky this time of morning,” Dave replied.
“He’s cranky, full stop,” Bill said. “But that’s why you shouldn’t give him the opening.” He exhaled, standing up. “And you’re both here because I was right.”
“And wanted to gloat in person?” Dave asked.
“You know the longer we’re trapped on this ship together, the more you sound like him,” he nodded in my direction.
“Maybe the longer we’re on ship, the more we all become like him,” Dave said in a nearly spooky voice.
“Or maybe something about the burden of leadership…” I offered.
“That was half-assed even by your standards,” Bill said. “But it has less to do with gloating, and more to do with wanting all of us on the same page. And I suspect you either don’t read my memos, or don’t retain them. So periodically we do this in person, so I can at least watch for your eyes glazing over, to know what I’ll need to repeat later.”
“And?” Dave asked.
“It’s like babysitting, only marginally more cleaning up other people’s shit.” He rubbed his eyes before continuing. “Retrofitting our sensor pods to accommodate a second pilot took doing- honestly, retrofitting them for manned travel in the first place took care of most of it. But aside from a little logistical streamlining the work is essentially done. What’s proving harder- even more difficult than my initial estimate, is the launch bays. A single pilot could be accommodated inside the original structure of the pods with just a little jiggering- and of course removal of some of the more fidgety sensor arrays. But something has to give; there just isn’t enough space for a second person; we even did some testing, using only the smallest 10% of our crew, but still, unless we put them all on borderline deadly starvation diets and trained them to be contortionists- and ignored that it isn’t healthy for a human body to be stuck in a strange position for weeks or months- it was a worthy attempt, but came to nothing. Which means we’re back to the bigger pod with room for two.”
“Can we get inside?” Dave asked.
“It’s not a roller coaster,” Bill started, “but yes.”
Dave slid into the front seat, and I squeezed into the back. There was maybe a foot between Dave’s head and mine, and the majority of that was taken up by screens and controls.
“Tight fit,” Dave said.
“We’re trying to fit two square pegs into a round hole at the same time.”
“It’s necessary,” I said. “We’ve gotten lucky, in that I don’t think it would have made a difference on any pods we’ve sent. But there are going to be situations where two heads are better than one, or where one person needs medical assistance they can’t get from the locals.”
“I’m not arguing over the philosophy behind the project, merely explaining the practical difficulties.”
“When can we launch?” I asked.
“Depends. Who’s we?”
“You and me. I wanted us to have a romantic weekend away together, so I could finally confess my lust in style.”
“I’m out of your league,” Bill said. “But just assuming you learned your lesson last time- just like I did- inside of a week. Now, I know you could probably do an end-run around me, maybe even have the logistics all laid out. That’s why I’ve already told the council what I’m telling you.”
“Well they have historically been superb at curbing my worst instincts,” I said, putting an edge in my voice without realizing it. I smiled, to soften it a little. “You didn’t have to do that,” I said, “but I understand.”
“And I… don’t care,” Bill said. “You spend a lot of time on this ship acting like you know what’s best for the rest of us; you get that right often enough we’ve left you nominally in charge.” He sighed. “But your paternalistic bullshit is going to get people killed. We need you right now, but I pray every goddamned night that either you’ll finally grow up into the captain we need, or you’ll get the hell out of the way so someone better can.”
Bill offered me a hand out of the prototype and it took every ounce of self-control I had not to use it to fulcrum his face into the instrument panel. It was one thing to cut me down when he felt I was getting too big for my britches; it was entirely different to do it in front of one of the other DivHeads.
I was most of the way out of the room, but Haley made sure to pipe the audio in to my cochlear implants. I think she did it because she knew Dave better than any of the rest of us, and was pretty confident how he was going to react.
“You should know that he’s the better man right now,” Dave said, “because I would have decked you for that.”