03 Mar

Blind spot

Ship's log, 13:31, 3 March 2213
Location: Corsica system
Status: Sublight transit

Elliott got the immersion couch working late yesterday. I couldn’t see it before. It wasn’t just that the chair wasn’t connected to me; I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t even see what Elliott was doing to fix it, just the debris that fell into my line of sight and sputters of curses floating out to find me.

It doesn’t make sense. My sensors are adjustable, able to shift focus and angle to scan whatever I need, but they were all pointing away from it, leaving a blank spot on the Bridge that I had thought was just wall. Elliott had to forcibly readjust their aim. It was like he grabbed my head and turned it towards the back of the Bridge, and I didn’t know until that moment that I’d had a crick in my neck all this time.

I can see it now, propped up in the rear of the Bridge, and I still don’t want to look. A long black thing with loops for wrists and ankles, it looks more like a torture device than something a person would willingly climb into. There’s a hood that comes down over the person’s face, enclosing the head entirely and resting a padded edge across the chest to keep it steady. Sensors and feeds are folded in like fingers, laced and waiting for someone to curl around.

I get claustrophobic just looking at it, and I don’t have a body to be swallowed up by that thing.

It’s a pilot’s chair. Higher spec than the entertainment couches cradling my idle few, this one has reciprocal sensors. The chair connects directly to the pilot’s cybernetic neural implants, feeding my sensory data to his brain and taking his responses in return. It’s hooked into all of my essential piloting systems: navigation; manoeuverability; inertial dampening; even FTL, though I can’t imagine why.

It creates a weird symbiosis between us, but one in which the pilot is in charge. The chair automatically takes control of the systems interfaced with it, overriding my control of speed, direction and attitude. I go wherever the pilot forces me to go.

I don’t like it. It sits there like a spidery exoskeleton, waiting to wrap around a fragile human and hand it our fate.

They tell me that it’s necessary for the experiment. A human pilot is essential; I won’t do.

That pilot is Levi Srivastava, a man I don’t know or trust. I haven’t had anyone in control of me like that, and now I’m expected to let this stranger take my helm and run with it. We’re hoping to get some testing in before we initiate the first ‘Step, but I’m not comfortable with how close we’re running this. We’re less than a day from Corsica’s orbit. How do we even know he can handle me? Am I supposed to just let him take over and hope he’s competent?

His record is clean. Nearly thirty years of flying, more than ten of piloting from an immersion couch. No major incidents, no reprimands. On file, he looks reliable and solid. The facts and figures are lined up in neat characters and tell me nothing that I really need to know.

When I look at that pilot’s chair, I can’t help but be nervous.

He doesn’t talk to me. He doesn’t really know the crew – I know them better than he does, and that’s not saying much. He still struggles to find his way around my innards when he goes jogging. He’s neat and clean in his habits, from personal hygiene to the mess and the galley. He even tidies up after some of the sloppier members of the crew – namely Tyler and Rosie – though always with grumbles or disapproving glances. They’re good at ignoring him when he does that.

He doesn’t really have any friends on board. He talks to the captain, and he has spent a lot of time with Cirilli and Wong to go over the technical details. He has been using the entertainment couches in the crew area; I checked on the programs he has been running, and they’re all flight simulations. So I guess he has been practising.

It doesn’t make me feel better.

 

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering) Hey, Starry, where’d my sandwich go?

STARWALKER: What sandwich?

ELLIOTT: I had a sandwich, right here. (He points to the spot next to him, in front of an open vent cover.)

SW: Well, I didn’t take it. I prefer fuel for lunch.

(The repair drone near Elliott wiggles its stubby fingers and turns its head left, then right, then left again, as if it’s nervous.)

ELLIOTT: (watches the drone and grins.) Is that you or him?

SW: (innocently) I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ll pull up the feeds, shall I? No pun intended.

ELLIOTT: Right, right.

 

Now that the couch is fixed, he’s not so prickly. I think he has forgiven me for not working right. I like making him laugh; he’s the only one on board comfortable enough to do that when I make a joke. Everyone else just looks at me weirdly.

 

Recording: 13:28, 3 March 2213

(Elliott takes a bite of a sandwich while he’s working. There’s an exposed circuitboard in front of him, the silicon sheet bearing power flows that sputter visibly under the surface. He puts the sandwich down beside him without looking at it, directly onto the floor. There doesn’t seem to be a plate anywhere near him. With both hands freed, he pulls the circuitboard out of its housing and makes the tip of his probing tool fizz against the surface.

The sandwich does not move at first. Then it twitches. A second later, it begins to slide into the vent opening, a little at a time. Too lazy to get the proper safety goggles for such a small job, Elliott shades his eyes from the spits of light as he works, and doesn’t notice as his lunch slips gradually away into the shadow of the vent. The angle of the sensor doesn’t show what might have snagged the snack and dragged it off.)

ELLIOTT: …oh, that’s just creepy.

SW: It wasn’t any of my drones.

ELLIOTT: Are you sure?

SW: I double-checked. They’re all busy. I can’t get a better angle on the sandwich – you’re blocking the view from the other sensors.

ELLIOTT: (looking at the open vent with a disturbed expression) You really can’t tell what that was?

SW: I can try zooming in on it. There isn’t– wait. There is something.

(The screen replays the recording, focussed in tightly on the spot where the sandwich meets the open vent mouth.)

ELLIOTT: (leaning in to get a better look.) What is that?

SW: I think it’s a… claw. Or two? It definitely looks like a claw.

ELLIOTT: A what? I– oh. (He blinks and sits back again, relaxing.) Well, I guess that makes sense.

SW: It does? There isn’t anyone on board with claws.

ELLIOTT: Sure there is.

SW: What? Who? Elliott, what is it?

ELLIOTT: (grinning) Relax, Starry girl. You got dustbunnies, that’s all.

SW: I– what?

ELLIOTT: Dustbunnies. You know. You noticed that your scrubbers and filters are running really well?

SW: Yes, but they’re brand new.

ELLIOTT: And you’ve got dustbunnies. (He pats the panel next to him.) Don’t worry, they’re all good. Though, hey. (His smile fades again.) That was my damn sandwich.

 

Dustbunnies. I have a file on them, which says that they’re neither bunnies nor made from dust. They’re not even furry. It’s unknown where the name came from – they have an ‘official’ name, but it’s long and Latin, and I can see why people use the nickname. They’re small and live in the vents and ducts of ships and space stations, feeding on the organic waste piped away from the habitable areas. Good little recyclers, they keep to themselves; there are only rare reports of sightings and they clean up their own mess. Most of the time, you’d never know they were there. That’s not a comforting thought right now.

Clearly, my crew’s not very dirty and they got hungry enough to come steal something. It must have taken three of them to move that sandwich, at least. They’re supposed to be quite small, enough to wriggle through tight duct junctions and down to pick organic material off the filters.

We must have picked them up while we were at the JOP. Now I’m wondering what else the station might have infected us with. Maybe I’ll run some heuristic diagnostics, just in case little creatures that hardly anyone in the galaxies has ever seen aren’t all that crawled aboard while I was tethered up to it.

How can I not have noticed them before now? I don’t have internal sensors designed to pick up that kind of thing inside the ducts, but my drones have been working in them a few times. I have two small enough for that. Do the dustbunnies hide from machines as well as people?

There’s a part of me that’s pleased. My crew has grown by an unknown number of small creatures, and we have a strange, unconscious symbiosis that benefits both of us. I’m teeming with beautiful, thriving life. It’s like having pets, but without the toilet training, feeding and constant demands for attention. I wonder if they’re cute.

I wish that was all. I wish I could just be pleased by it and move on. But how could I not know they were there? How could I not know about the pilot’s chair on the Bridge?

What else haven’t I noticed?

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4 Responses to “Blind spot”

  1. Angel Says:

    That would be disturbing, not knowing what was going on when you are supposed to know everything. Don’t think I’d want little things with claws running around the ship if it was me!

  2. Melanie Says:

    So true, Angel! It’s like bedbugs – you know they’re probably there, but if you think about it too much, it’s as creepy as hell.

    Poor Starwalker, she’s only just starting to realise what she doesn’t know.

  3. Jen Says:

    Poor Starwalker, nothing worse than having something blindside you, no matter how innocent.

    *smile* I do like the dustbunnies though *claps*

  4. Melanie Says:

    Yeah, nothing freakier than thinking you know the situation, only to have something leap out and smack you in the face.

    Dustbunnies. Couldn’t resist them. Glad you like!