19 Mar

All the king’s horses

Ship's log, 19:50, 19 March 2213
Location: Corsica system
Status: Medium orbit around Corsica sol


I had hoped that the focus on me would ease up now there’s a bigger problem at hand. There’s a saboteur on board; surely that’s more important than an AI with a few odd glitches?

Apparently not. Tripi has been pushing her way through my central core for days – she’s thorough and I’m a complicated mass of protocols, commands, caveats and monitoring systems, not to mention the data cores and processing. No-one told her to stop, so she didn’t. I think Cirilli still wants to be rid of me, as well; I’ve heard her mention it to her staff.

Maybe it’s the secrecy. They’re only looking at me so that the saboteur doesn’t know they’re really looking for him (or her). They can’t ease up on me until they’ve found who’s responsible for the power modulator in the pilot’s chair. It doesn’t make the whole thing any nicer to deal with. I still don’t like having Tripi poke around in my head. The jingle of her chain-lace gloves is starting to sound like warning bells.

Maybe I should ask–


LOU TRIPI: (outside the captain’s cabin) Sir, you wanted my report.

CAPTAIN: (from inside) Yes, yes. Come in, Officer Tripi.

Another report being given in private. I shouldn’t eavesdrop, but I shouldn’t have done it on Wednesday, either. I don’t care. This is about me: I deserve to know what’s going on in my own body. And my own head.

TRIPI: (walking into the cabin) I’ve got my report for you, sir. (She waves a digisheet. The door closes behind her.)

CAPT: (gestures for the sheet.) Thank you. (He glances over it and a frown forms.) What does all this mean?

TRIPI: Well, it’s… (She eyes a nearby chair.) …complicated, sir. I’m not sure how much of this is a problem, exactly, but there are a lot of irregularities.

CAPT: Is that so. (He considers the SecOff for a moment, then indicates that she may sit down.) Let’s hear it, then.

TRIPI: (jingling faintly as she settles in the seat) On the surface, everything looks like it’s working fine. Exactly as it should. The AI is managing the ship’s systems, keeping track of the crew, monitoring environmentals, navigating, controlling the helm – all the things it should.

CAPT: But?

TRIPI: I started finding shunts. Little code bridges that bypass certain blocks. Mostly in minor systems, but a few in some of the more central processing units.

CAPT: Get to the point, Tripi. What do these shunts do?

TRIPI: (smoothing her skirt down, fingertips folding the creases neatly) Bypass protocols. But, interestingly, they’re not consistent in their purpose. In some places, they allow extra processing. In others, they reinforce safety limits, almost doubling protections. In others still, they represent security breaches.

CAPT: (frowning) How serious?

TRIPI: So far, not serious at all. But you should know that the AI has been poking into things that it shouldn’t. Data mostly, some sensor feeds. There hasn’t been any communications activity, so nothing has been transmitted elsewhere.

CAPT: So what’s she doing with all this information?

TRIPI: (shrugs) I don’t know. Impossible to tell what she’s using it for. I think she’s keeping some kind of log of everything, but so far, I haven’t been able to track that down.

CAPT: I thought your report was complete.

TRIPI: It is. As long as it doesn’t leave the ship, the log’s not dangerous. I just need more time to find it.

CAPT: I see. Any idea why she’s doing all this?

TRIPI: No. (Her shirt shivers as she shrugs again and her nose wrinkles with displeasure.) I can’t find any orders, protocols, commands – nothing that might indicate that she has been programmed to do any of this. Means that it probably wasn’t a virus – there’d be a trail, remnants of the things that have been controlling the AI. Whatever is making her do this is built into her core logic.

CAPT: And what did you find there?

TRIPI: (rolls her eyes.) A mess. I’ve never seen such a seething mass of code before, not even in an AI. Every time I look, it’s different. Sometimes, it makes perfect sense, all neatly laid out. Other times, it’s all conflicting protocols and endless logic loops. If I was paranoid, I’d think that it only made sense when it knew I was looking.

CAPT: (frowning) Monaghan said her core programming was fine.

TRIPI: Maybe at his level it is, but once you get right down into it, the code starts to tell a different story. You follow a processing stream from start to finish, and you can’t always tell where you’re going to end up. (She hesitates, then adds,) An AI is basically built to be a huge data processor with sophisticated logic protocols – you feed in the same bit of data twice, you should get the same result each time. Not so with this one. Nine times out of ten that it’s true, but there’s that extra one you gotta watch out for.

CAPT: (grimly) So she’s faulty.

TRIPI: Hard to say what it is. Like I said, I’ve never seen anything like it before.

CAPT: Can it be fixed?

TRIPI: (wrinkles her nose.) Well… hard to say. See, that’s not all.

CAPT: (suppresses a sigh.) Yes?

TRIPI: I started following data streams, see where they went. There was a lot of activity – too much, really, even for an AI running a ship this size, with all the crew awake and calling for its attention at the same time. Some of the feeds went down to a firewall in the data cores, into a set of archives.

CAPT: (sitting up a bit straighter) Archives? What kind of archives?

TRIPI: It looks like some kind of locked store from the first trip out here. I don’t know; I couldn’t get in.

CAPT: I thought you were an expert in breaking into data cores you weren’t supposed to access.

TRIPI: (lifting her chin) I am. And, for the record, I didn’t try that hard. It’s a damn solid firewall and breaking it wasn’t part of the job. I don’t know who put it there, but they’re good, whoever they are.

CAPT: And it wasn’t you.

TRIPI: Nope, not my work. No signature on it, either; usually, with code like that, there’d be some kind of signature. It was built with a shifting algorithm – pretty cool stuff. I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at it, actually.

CAPT: Maybe another time. You said the AI was accessing it?

TRIPI: I think so. It was hard to tell, but I think the AI can get inside.

CAPT: Hmm. Anything else?

TRIPI: No, that’s the crux of it.

CAPT: (leaning forward) You didn’t answer my question: can she be fixed?

TRIPI: (lifting her hands up, empty) Hard to say. Maybe, but it’d take a lot of work. Have to figure out where all these anomalies are coming from and wipe them out. It’d be hard to know if you ever got them all.

CAPT: I see.

TRIPI: It’d be quicker – and probably safer – to just reload it.

CAPT: I see. Anything else I should know?

TRIPI: (tilts her head to the side as she considers that) Hmm, no. It’s all there in the report. Though I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at ‘fixing’ her. It’d be a hell of a challenge. Given enough time, I’d get there. (She grins cheerily.)

CAPT: I’ll think about it. For now, see what you can find out about that archive.

TRIPI: (standing and nodding, her shoulders straight like a well-trained SecOff) Yes, sir.

CAPT: (activating his communications implant) Elliott, report to my cabin, please.

TRIPI: (leaves, smiling to herself when she overhears the summoning.)


I’m not normal. I had thought that might be the case, of course I had. I know I’m not a regular AI. I’m the fat chick down the block, or the goth across the room, or the cripple with antigrav hoverpads instead of legs.

Worse than that: I’m broken. I do things I’m not supposed to, things my code isn’t supposed to let me do. I think that’s who I am. I’m the broken ship, the one who flies with one wing higher than the other and backs in when she should reverse out.

The captain wants to make me better. I don’t know who I’d be if I was ‘better’.


ELLIOTT: (outside the captain’s door) You yelled?

CAPT: (from inside) I didn’t yell. Come in, Monaghan.

ELLIOTT: (flops down in a seat) What was so urgent? I thought that my current work was all– (He glances over his shoulder to make sure the door is closed: it is.) –top priority.

CAPT: It is. I have a question for you.

ELLIOTT: That you couldn’t ask over the comms?

CAPT: Yes.

ELLIOTT: About our secret-squirrel thing?

CAPT: We’re in private; you can call it sabotage. But no.

ELLIOTT: (frowning) Then what?

CAPT: What was done with the archives from the first Starwalker?

ELLIOTT: Shunted into off-line storage, like you asked. Sealed and put away. Well, until I had to crack them open to look at the sensor logs. Why?

CAPT: No archives were left on the ship’s systems?

ELLIOTT: No, I removed everything. Why?

CAPT: Are you sure?

ELLIOTT: Hey, I do my job, okay? What the fuck is this about? Was that Tripi I saw comin’ out of here? Did that bitch say something?

CAPT: (holding up his hands) Calm down, Monaghan, no-one is criticising your work. Tripi found a hidden archive in the AI’s core.

ELLIOTT: Well I didn’t put it there!

CAPT: All right, I believe you. Do you know how it might have got there?

ELLIOTT: No. (He pauses.) Well– there is one possibility. Well– two.

CAPT: (rubbing the bridge of his nose with a thumb) Tell me.

ELLIOTT: Not all of the data that was wiped was overwritten right away. A recovery program might have been able to piece some of it back together.

CAPT: Who would have run something like that?

ELLIOTT: (shrugs) I don’t know. No-one should have; no-one had any data to recover. It was all sorted out before we shut the ship down.

CAPT: And the other option?

ELLIOTT: Some data could have been incorporated into the AI’s code. This model is built to learn.

CAPT: What kind of data?

ELLIOTT: (shrugs again) Preferences, situational actions. That kind of thing. Nothing major.

CAPT: But didn’t we start with a fresh install?

ELLIOTT: Of the latest backup of the AI mainframe, yes. You said you didn’t want to have to configure her again, so I didn’t install the factory default. It took us months to get the ship Step-ready the first time, remember?

CAPT: (forming a scowl) You cut corners?

ELLIOTT: You ordered me to. Hey, whatever the hell this is, it ain’t my fucking fault. You wanted it up and running without any delays, and that’s what you got. I ran all the diagnostics I could find on it and the programming came back clean. The data cores were empty. I don’t know what Tripi found, but I didn’t fuck up the install and the AI I installed was fine. She’s fine.

CAPT: Calm down, Monaghan.

ELLIOTT: No, I won’t calm down. You’re gonna wipe her, aren’t you? She saved us, and you’re gonna fucking wipe her.

CAPT: It hasn’t been decided yet.

ELLIOTT: No? You sure? Because it damned well sounds like you’ve made your mind up.

CAPT: (sharply) That’s enough, Engineer.

ELLIOTT: (standing up) Enough? Fine. Fucking fine. But y’know what? She’s done nothing wrong.

CAPT: (standing) You’re dismissed, Monaghan.

ELLIOTT: Fine! (He storms out, swearing under his breath.)


Elliott. He’ll go back to Engineering and throw things at the walls now. I don’t know if he does it on purpose but he always picks the most solid bulkheads, the ones he won’t break. His tools suffer for it, sometimes. I’ll fix them while he’s asleep.

He thinks I’ve done nothing wrong. Is that true? I hope it’s true. I want to be a good ship.

The problem is, I’m not right, either. I think everyone sees the cracks now, even though some of us don’t want to admit it.

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2 Responses to “All the king’s horses”

  1. David Says:

    I think I’ve decided that Elliot is my favorite. I love characters who have no filter. He always says what he thinks, regardless of who is listening.

  2. Melanie Says:

    I have a fondness for mouthy characters. Elliott makes no apologies about who he is to anyone, and I love playing with that.