30 Nov

Air and water

Ship's log, 16:53, 9 March 2214
Location: Offshore docking, Hong Kong, Earth
Status: Docked and powered down

 

Here we are! Earth. Home planet. Terra Firma.

Well, it’s not very firm here. I’m too big to dock directly on the mainland, so they’ve assigned me a tether spot out in the waters of Repulse Bay, nestled between a shuttle stop and a luxury spaceliner.

I unloaded most of my crew an hour ago; they hopped aboard the port skiffs that speed about the bay here and disappeared into the crowded waters. After some zipping and zagging, they made it to the quays that fight for shoreline space with tiny beaches.

Once they were clear, I submerged; we think it’s better to be as unobtrusive as possible. So, right now, I’m an iceberg: only my top hatch is above the waterline. Sometimes, the skiffs pass by right above me, ruffling the water over my hull.

It’s very tempting to roll so that my tailfin is just visible and glide around the bay, like a shark. But I’m a good ship and will stay in my allotted spot, tethered to the beacon by my nosecone. Besides, the water here is too packed with ships and submersibles for much gliding of any kind.

It’s strange here, under the water. It’s cloudy and churned into a brownish colour. It presses against me all over, like great, wet hands. It’s not restrictive; I have more than enough power to lift myself free. It’s more like being cradled. Wrapped. The water dulls sensory input, except for the antennae I extend outside of its grip. It’s like it has washed the sharp corners off the world.

Being here is giving me way too much time to think. I hadn’t really thought about what would happen once we got here, not in any real detail.

I hadn’t realised that I’d have to let my crew step off my decks and onto strange, foreign skiffs. I had to let them go. They’re out of my reach. I can’t protect them any more. I wasn’t prepared for this.

Of course, I knew they would have to leave my hull to get what we need. I knew that. I had done the calculations and had the data all filed away. But I didn’t realise what it meant. I wasn’t prepared.

It was all I could do not to lock all my hatches when the skiffs pulled up. There was the captain and Dr Socks standing in the airlock, watching it approach, with the little stasis pod containing John’s arm hovering between them. And all I could think was that he was leaving me, stepping beyond my reach, to go into a dangerous situation without me. He’d be alone. Sure, Dr Socks is going with him to keep an eye on everything, but I don’t know him, don’t trust him.

 

Recording: 15:59, 9 March 2214
Log location: Main crew airlock

STARRY: (resolving her avatar into visibility near the open outer airlock doors) Are you sure you have everything you need?

CAPTAIN: (starts and stares at her briefly, taking in the sight of the avatar) Yes, I think so. Don’t worry, Starry. We’ll be back soon.

DR SOCKS: (stares at the avatar with open curiosity.)

STARRY: How long?

CAPT: A few hours.

DR SOCKS: They may wish to keep him overnight. It depends how the surgery goes.

STARRY: You can’t get them to bring the equipment here?

CAPT: (smiles kindly) You know that’s not going to happen. I’ll be fine, Starry.

STARRY: (shifting her avatar’s weight) Okay. (She looks to the doctor for the first time.) You’re going to look after him, right?

DR SOCKS: (surprised when she meets his gaze) Of course. I’ll look out for him.

STARRY: Bring him back to me.

DR SOCKS: Um, sure. It’s what I’m here for.

ROSIE: (walking up from inside the ship and slapping Dr Socks on the shoulder) Don’t worry, I’ll keep ’em in line.

STARRY: You’re going too?

ROSIE: Yup. Slight change of plan. Chief wants me here. That okay with you, Cap?

CAPT: (nodding) Yes, that’s fine.

DR SOCKS: (shoots Rosie a sideways look.)

ROSIE: (misses it entirely, too busy grinning) Excellent.

STARRY: (glances over her shoulder, out of the open airlock doors. The breeze doesn’t lift her hair the way it does for the humans. The skiff is pulling up alongside, lining itself up with the lip of the airlock.) Okay. Good luck. I’ll… (She gazes at the captain for a long second.) I’ll see you later.

CAPT: (smiles for her again) You will. See you soon, Starry.

He was trying to be so brave, mostly for my benefit, I think. He should know that I can tell when he’s faking. I could tell how strained he was, just standing there, and I could see how much Dr Socks had to support him when he climbed into the skiff. The loss of his arm has been wearing at him, more and more.

I appreciate that he tried, though. I know that he means to come through this all right. I can feel his heart, even now, beating in its steady, dependable way, though it’s a little faster than usual. They’re at the hospital, discussing things with the surgeon. Investigating options. I wish I knew how it was going.

There wasn’t time to build more comprehensive monitors. Cameron and I have been working on them for the past few days; she approached me while we were on approach and asked for something to keep track of the newbies while they were land-side. She wanted to see what Swann and Dr Socks got up to without them knowing and I suggested that we apply them to everyone who was leaving the ship. It’s not that I don’t trust the others – of course I trust them – but knowing that I can tell where and how they are makes all the difference to me. I won’t fret so much with them gone. I might obsess over the data feeds a bit, but it’s better than knowing nothing.

The patches are thin and light, so most of them don’t even know they’re being monitored. I had Bit and Byte paint them onto each crewmember last night while they were all asleep. The patches had to be painted onto the skin where they wouldn’t be rubbed off or damaged: the hollow of the neck, the spine, the inside of the wrist. They’re not great places for visual or aural receptors because they’ll be muffled by clothing. I couldn’t build anything sophisticated anyway; I don’t have the parts to construct truly subtle sensors. Building in transmitters strong enough to reach me through the morass of Hong Kong’s data traffic was hard enough. I’m getting biorhythms and a location from each of them, but that’s all. That’ll have to be enough.

At least I can tell how they are. The captain is starting to get stressed, but Dr Socks seems energised. Enthused, perhaps, if his adrenaline and energy is anything to go by. His heartbeat isn’t freaking out. He’s probably enjoying the chance to delve into his work, sparring with the surgeons and urging them on to more exciting options. Rosie is relaxed and unphased by it all, so he can’t be pushing too far yet. She’d smack him upside the head soon enough if he tried.

I’m so glad that Cameron decided to send Rosie with the captain. I haven’t told the Chief how worried I am about him but I guess that she can tell anyway. Could that be another reason why she asked me to construct the patches? Did she know that I’d want one on John? Or is she worried too?

Cameron took Swann with her when she disembarked. She went off to the business sector, to look for an agent who can set up the company registration for us. She’s still on her way there now, stuck in the molasses of Hong Kong traffic. Even with four layers of lanes stacked on top of each other, it still takes forever to get anywhere on that island.

Elliott was the last one to leave. He’s going on his own – I don’t like it, but he insisted that he would be okay. He’s heading in the opposite direction to Cameron and Swann, towards the less prestigious trading outfits. He has a digisheet with a long list of parts we need and enough credit to buy it several times over. He also took his favourite spanner with him, though I’m not entirely sure what he plans to do with it. I’m sure he’ll be fine.

He has been in the same spot for seven minutes now and his heart-rate is climbing steadily; he must be making a deal. His location comes up as a mechanic’s garage on my maps. That didn’t take him long! He’s not in trouble. I don’t have to worry about him.

It seems that I’m doing a lot of things I don’t have to lately.

The only ones still aboard right now are two of my science team and one half-deactivated pirate. Half-Face is still in Med Bay, where he’s been in a drug-induced coma since we hit Earth orbit. The captain decided it was best not to take any chances: who knows what kind of comms equipment he might have hidden in one of his implants? I’d rather not find out by having armed ships descend on me, so I had no qualms about making him sleep through this visit.

All three of my science contingent have been looking at the records from the last Step. At Cirilli and Lang Lang’s request, I tried to pull in some data about Grisette while I was on the Outside. It’s not easy: I had to filter the sensor information and pick out bits to store from the massive volumes out there. It’s hard to know if I grabbed the right stuff for them. I’m sure they’ll tell me as soon as they’re done with the analysis.

To my surprise, Cirilli didn’t stay to complete the work. She left Ebling and Lang Lang to it, ordered herself a skiff, and stepped off the ship. It’s the first time she has left my decks since I woke up; both times I was at the JOP, she didn’t leave the confines of my hull. She barely leaves mid-deck except to sleep, especially now she’s not sleeping with the captain any more.

She didn’t say where she was going or why. No explanation at all, not even when I projected my avatar for her and asked. She just fobbed me off and told me she would be back before tomorrow. It wasn’t a comforting answer but she has never been the comforting type. Not towards me, anyway.

She doesn’t know that I have a monitoring patch on her. She doesn’t know that I know exactly where she is. Like Cameron and Swann, she’s still in traffic, but I’m watching her. I’ll see where she goes. Maybe I’ll let the captain ask her what she was up to, after they both get back.

I don’t like waiting. I don’t like watching these blips on my incoming transmissions. It’s never enough.

I’d rather be flying. I’d rather lift myself into this atmosphere and play with the wind.

Until a few hours ago, I’d never known the touch of air, the sweep of pressure across my hull. There’s something thrilling about it. Flying through clouds is like dancing through candy floss – it gets caught on my wingtips and fins and trails behind me, as if it doesn’t want to let me go. I can draw patterns in it, and it beads my hull with tiny, bright droplets that skate across my paint. They leave tracks on me, just like I leave tracks on the sky, and it seems like a fair exchange. It’s like dancing with a partner after years of waltzing alone.

Puncturing the atmosphere was harder than I thought it would be, but my paint is more than up to the job of protecting us from the heat of re-entry friction. I was like a hot knife sliding into butter, scything my way towards a juicy centre.

The air cooled me, and snapped and banged at my heels as I broke the sound barrier. It was a noisy thing trying to chase me, and it should know that no-one catches me when I’m flying. Not even the pirates, not without cheating, or superior numbers, or shooting at me until I’m too injured to fly any more. When it’s just me, there’s no catching me. I almost caught myself giggling as we came down towards the bay-port.

I wish I could be up there again. The captain has asked me not to. I’m too noticeable, he says. I fly too well. Someone will see me; people will comment, and film, and talk. They’ll ask questions and try to find me. No AI flies like I do. There’s no pilot on my roster. My avatar is a dead woman.

We have to keep a low profile. Stay below the radar, whatever that means. So instead of a bird, I’m an iceberg, lying in wait below the surface of the water. I’m lurking until someone needs me, or someone comes home.

There’s a flock of seagulls swooping a short way down the coast from here. They’re swirling around above the water, diving and stalling and barely missing each other. Dirty birds, fighting over dead fish, but they’re so beautiful. They’re alive and in love with the air, and they fly so cleanly.

I can’t fly right now. I can’t do anything for my crew except wait and hope, and monitor the patterns of their pulses. Maybe I’ll watch the birds and see if they have any tricks I haven’t learned yet.

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7 Responses to “Air and water”

  1. Blik Says:

    I’m longing for scenes following each of the people Starry’s wondering about, but I know how unlikely that is because even the most private of things in the past have been Logged. So I’m dismayed to anticipate that everything we learn of the Landside adventures will be filtered and abridged.

  2. Antonious Says:

    Starry, Elliot took his favorite spanner with him because it is also his favorite negotiating tool.

  3. mjkj Says:

    Great one 🙂

    Yayy, Starry gets a hug – her first physical hug 😀 – Starry hugged by water 😀

    I like the idea of her playing shark 😛

    Great, I hope she will find something else to do and not get bored.

    I hope we will get some logs about what had happened off board from the others – like a recap log 🙂

    *looking forward to the next updates*

    mjkj

  4. Belial666 Says:

    Considering that subjective time for a supercomputer is much faster even if said computer must handle a human personality, Starry would get bored pretty quickly.
    For example, during her initialization we get the sense that as much as a dozen subjective minutes pass… but objective time is only 13 seconds. That means a 1:60 time ratio at least.

    So if her crew is out for an hour? It would seem to her 2,5 days. If her crew is out for a shift or two? It would seem to her like a whole month.

  5. Melanie Says:

    Blik – aw! Maybe I’ll see what I can work in. 🙂

    Antonious – hee, I love it! So true.

    mjkj – she’s mischievous enough to play shark. Thank goodness for docking and tethering protocols. 😉

    Belial666 – so true! By the time they get back, she’ll be a chess master and have completed all of their crosswords.

  6. daymon34 Says:

    Eek gad I fell way behind, hello again and I’m back… So far back I couldn’t comment on the chapters.

    I can just see Stary playning shark and have a blast doing it chasing ships. Or flying circles around other star crusiers as they come in to dock.

  7. Melanie Says:

    Welcome back, daymon34! 🙂 I love it when Danika’s wicked side comes through in Starry. At least she can run simulations of playing shark!