03 May


Chief Engineer's log, 22:14, 3 May 2213
Location: Grisette system
Status: Wide orbit around Grisette sol


Chief Engineer’s log, yada yada. The ship is running fine. No repairs to do, standard maintenance is nothing the drones can’t handle. Wong’s finished fixing the filament, and he wouldn’t let me help even if he’d just lost a hand.

Rumour says that he lost a hand once in a freak mechanical accident; other rumours say he cut it off himself to get the upgrade. But most people are sure he’s got a cybernetic hand. I don’t know which one; I keep looking to see if I can spot the plastiskin. It’s either a damn good job, or he’s had it long enough for his own skin to grow over it.

That’s some freaky shit right there. Call me old-fashioned, but cybernetic limbs are disturbing. They don’t feel right. I picked up this girl once and things started getting all hot, y’know how it goes. Then I ran a hand up her leg and her thigh was all weird and… well. I had to ask her what the hell and we wound up talking for hours about prosthetics and implants, which was fine for me, because I really wasna’t into the idea of screwing her any more. Some people get really turned on by it, especially the more versatile ones (look! It transforms into sixty different configurations! And flashes!), but that ain’t me.

I don’t mind the control tattoos so much – been toying with getting one of those myself. It would mean I could get rid of my wristband and use sub-dermal controls to interface with my implants and the ship’s systems. They don’t feel anything like prosthetics do. Plus they look cool, if you buy one that can masquerade as a tattoo while it’s not in use. But whole limbs, metal and plastiform muscles beneath the flesh instead of bone, that’s a whole different story.

Maybe I should get Rosie to challenge Wong to an arm-wrestling match. She’s had so many cybernetic upgrades that she might as well have prosthetic limbs, except she’s had it done all over. No chinks in her armour. I wonder if that includes the muscles in her– wow, I so don’t want to go there. I feel sorry for any guy brave enough to pick her up – he’d be lucky to survive the night. What is it they used to say in the SecOff upgrade ads? ‘With great power comes great responsibility’.

Anyway, so I’m supposed to be reporting on this surveillance crap. Hands aside, I’ve been looking at Wong way more than I’d like lately. I feel like some kind of balaclava SecOff, sneaking around and shit, though I’m doing it all through Starry’s sensors. No actual sneaking around for me. Hell, it makes my heart try to climb out of my mouth when I’m just watching them through the monitors, as if they might realise. I keep waiting for that moment when they turn around and spike the sensor. If that ever happens, I think my heart’ll just stop right where it is, and Starry will have to send the big boys down to drag my sorry ass off to medbay. I have no idea how the real spy-types do this.

Wong and Tripi. Our prime scumbags, screwing us up with such sophistication. Okay, so we’re only looking for one of them, but the more I look at them, the more I find reasons to trust them even less.

Wong’s a selfish bastard. Not just with the tech stuff – he’s precious with everything. Nearly took Levi’s head off over a chip stolen off his plate. Like there isn’t enough stock to keep us in chips for five years. You don’t play with his tools, poke at the Star Step systems, or ask to borrow a pair of socks. Hell, even a ‘can you grab me a drink while you’re up’ gets you a glare, though he’ll do it if it’s easier than refusing. He’s got his own bubble he’s playing in and he’d much rather no-one else intruded on it, thank you very much. And yet he completely fails to understand that other people have bubbles, too.

Tripi’s her own piece of work. I don’t know her that well – we’ve been on this ship for what, almost a year? I know next to nothing about her, except that she manages to colour-code herself differently every day. The whole kaboodle – it’s not just the outfits she pastes on herself, it’s everything. Does her hair all fancy, colours her face and hands, straps her tits up in a hundred different ways – every goddamn morning. On the first shakedown run, Rosie and I started making bets about what she’d look like each morning. I don’t think either of us got it right once.

I think she knew about the bets. I think she knows more about what goes on on this ship than anyone, except Starry. Sure, sure – she’s SecOff and supposed to do the whole digital monitoring thing, like I’m doing now. It’s still creepy. She plays in the immersion chairs in her off-hours and sometimes I wonder just what she’s doing in there. Those goddamn coloured nails, they’re always tapping at something, and when she smiles, it’s always for herself, you know? Like the joke’s just for her, even if everyone’s laughing. Or that she’s somehow smarter than every other person in the room. Took me ages to stop looking over my shoulder when she did that.

I’ve been talking with Starry while we go through the sensor logs, and one of us – I forget which – noticed that she doesn’t really talk to anyone on board. Exchanges pleasantries, sure, but she doesn’t just talk. This crew isn’t exactly full of best buddies, but at least most of us chat about nothing when we’re not working, even if it’s just over meals. The science contingent are a bit separate, but they always have been. Within their little quartet, they seem to talk well enough. I guess us regular crew just ain’t good enough, huh?

Then there’s Danika the suicidal saboteur. Can you believe that? Can you believe anyone would think that was possible? Bullshit. I didn’t like her that much, and even I wouldn’t believe that. She might have been a little crazy sometimes, but she was one of those bouncy, life-loving nutjobs that wind up taking their own head off by accident. What happened when she died, that was calculated and planned out. Careful. Very un-Danika-like.

And besides, Starry’s sure that she didn’t do it. That’s good enough for me. I don’t think she’s lying about this; she’s too freaked out. I’ve never had her double-checking things as much as I have over the past few days. She doesn’t trust anything in her databanks. I’m surprised she hasn’t vibrated her bolts out from the tension.

That log was definitely altered – we confirmed it today. It was a fucking slick job, without a trace of the changes anywhere. Starry was chattering on at me about checking over her readings this morning and I finally got sick of it. I snapped at her – can’t remember what I said, but it was enough to shut her up for half an hour. Gave me time to think about how the hell we can find out for sure, and that’s when I remembered the archive. All those logs were stored offline and the originals are still intact. Jackpot!

We ran both logs side by side, and yup, they were different. Those little discrepancies, the ones that made Danika seem guilty? Starry was right: they weren’t there before. Some code-spinning bastard went in and made her look like that. One hell of an ass-covering move.

I should probably apologise for snapping at Starry. She’s being all quiet and sulky, just like a girl.

In the meantime, the investigations seem to be going around in circles. It could have been either of our top two and there doesn’t seem to be a way to separate them. There just isn’t enough in the logs to pin it down. Stuck out here — and a few thousand years out of time – we can’t go check up on bank accounts or message logs. It’s all down to what they’ve done here, on this ship, in either of its incarnations.

So what are we supposed to do? Fucked if I know. The captain’s worried – he always clams up like someone rammed a stick up his ass when he’s bothered by something. Hardly talks to anyone. I think it’s driving Cirilli nuts, but what do you expect? He thought he’d put all this stuff to rest months ago, and here it is, split open again. I could make a festering sore reference, but I’ll only creep myself out.

Starry’s more obviously scared. Not by the sabotage, oddly enough, not directly. This morning, right before I shouted at her, she asked me, “What else have they changed?” Like I could tell. And that’s kinda the point – we can’t tell. And in there, in the data core, that’s all of her. Binary data held in crystalline networks, making up her electrified AI brain. She knows how much power she holds, how easily she bypassed all the security protocols and took control of everything, but she did it to save us. She was protecting us that whole time. But how much would need to be changed to bypass that? Could her nature be changed that much? How would they even know what to change?

If I’m honest, the idea scares me a little too. Bad enough we’ve got this emotional AI running the ship – all we need is for her to go bugfuck-nuts on us and ram us into a star. Or turn off the IDs and do some fifty-G manoeuvres. If someone was looking to sabotage us, it’d be a perfect self-cleaning tactic. Just like the chair: all evidence washed away in the debris.

Shit. I shouldn’t have started thinking about this. I’ve been focussed on those goddamn logs, but now I’ve gone over this… it is, it’s perfect. If Starry doesn’t kill us, we’d be forced to wipe her and wind up vulnerable again. Either way, we lose and the saboteur wins. Fuck.

I wonder if the captain’s realised this. Has Starry figured it out yet? Fuck fuck fuck.

Once again, I get to be the bearer of wonderful news. It’s gonna scare the shit out of her. Wonder if I should apologise before or after, or both. Probably both.

You know what? When I find out who’s behind all this, I’m gonna kick their fuckin’ ass.

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3 Responses to “Alterations”

  1. capriox bovidae Says:

    Me too, Elliot, me too.

  2. David Says:

    Go get ’em Elliot!

  3. Melanie Says:

    Writing that last line put such a big smile on my face. One of the many reasons I love writing Elliott.