Ship's log, 23:42, 13 May 2214 Location: Orbit around Corsica Sol, Corsica system Status: Maintaining orbit
This is one of those days when we really miss the people we’ve lost. Not their faces or their cheer. Not the way they lighten the mood or make the work easier. Today, we miss their hands on their stations.
We’re circling Corsica, analysing the scans of her gravity tides. They’re erratic, frantic, tearing and twisting at themselves. Years of experimentation, with hundreds of portals opening and closing, have taken their toll. It’s not as wild and drastic as Terra Sol is, but in its own way, it’s more damaged and failing. The wounds are fresher here, while Terra Sol’s injuries had the scars and strain of fighting for balance for so many years.
With no Ebling to help, there’s only Cirilli and me analysing the data and building the probability matrices. Lang Lang is helping out as well, monitoring the scenarios. It’s all taking much longer than any of us would like. We hadn’t meant to stay here quite this long.
In the dark hours when my crew is asleep, I find myself scanning the rest of Corsica’s system when I should be taking more readings from the star.
I know why I keep doing it, even if it’s not exactly a conscious decision. I’m looking for signs of Corsica’s avatar. Will she be angry with me too? Will she take the time to speak with us, the way Kess did? Will she understand us, or is Kess different because we were born under her light? Will Corsica’s avatar even be a ‘she’, or do they come in masculine forms, or are they truly genderless?
Will she be furious? Can she even see or sense us here?
I wish I had taken more time to speak to Terra Sol’s avatar. There are so many questions I can’t answer, and some I’m afraid of. I wish she was here.
I’ve been unhitched from my company for a week and I’m already looking for someone to guide me. I guess those behavioural protocols are more embedded than I thought. I should focus on merely obeying my captain’s commands and stop worrying about anything larger or further than that.
Corsica has a few planets, but she doesn’t have any people of her own. I wonder what form her avatar would take. Something like her satellites? Maybe she doesn’t have an external body at all; maybe she is the star and that’s all she needs to be.
It still bothers me that she is twisting so wildly. It’s almost like I can hear her screaming under the pressure of it, and what makes it all worse is that I never noticed it before. I’ve looked at her many times in my short life. I’ve skimmed her gravity patterns, charged up my filaments and torn open the universe, right here, several times, but I never noticed just how much pain she was in.
I guess meeting a star changes that sort of thing.
Also, I never realised before how many fragments of the Star Step project drift around this system. The last time I was here, I was so focussed on the Stepping that I barely picked up on anything else. Old scanners are drifting in loose orbits, just inside the path of the first planet. There’s apparatus parked near the pole of the star: it’s a metal ring laced with struts and decapitated cables. This frame was once home to the first portal-punching equipment, before it was refined into the system that’s now stitched into my hull. Most of the portal manipulation equipment is gone now – removed to prevent anyone stumbling across it and reverse-engineering from it – but the frame remains with some of the less bespoke components.
We’ll have to deal with all of these shards. I want to scrub this system clean, so it’s as if this project never happened here. Heal this poor, struggling star. Set it to rights. Tidy it and leave it the way it should be. I’d like to apologise, though how or to whom, I have no idea.
But first, we have to calculate the best way to rebalance the star. We have better data this time – Cirilli’s project archives have the readings from before the first experiments were conducted here, before she was damaged – so we have a clearer goal to work towards. It’s going to take a while to refine the scenarios into a plan of attack, though.
There’s no need to rush. Elliott is busily installing the next phase of my weaponry; I’m still in pieces on the inside. There isn’t any external work going on yet, not when I’m orbiting this close to the star, but that will come later. More hull panels will be adapted with ports and hatches, so I can pop out the muzzles of new weapons.
The ones being installed now use repulsor technology. Similar to artificial gravity generators, and distant cousins by marriage to the gravity manipulations performed by the Step drive. They fire pellets of force that literally punch objects. I’m not sure how that’s useful in combat – I tend to think that blowing stuff up is the norm, rather than just slapping it around – but I’m sure Cameron had something in mind when she asked for them to be included in the schematics.
The hardest thing is going to be countering the recoil of such a punch. Elliot is having to reconfigure some of my inertial dampening to handle the forces involved; right now, the bulk of its protection is set up to counter the pull and crush of the FTL jumps, and while the repulsors won’t have anything like that kind of power, the angle of the force and its stresses on my bodywork make it a tricky problem to solve. We could fix the weapons’ aim to make the solution easier, but that means I’d have to be in exactly the right position for us to be able to shoot it, and that doesn’t seem very practical.
I’m sure Elliott will figure it out. He’s enthusiastic about the project and enjoying the chance to do something different with his days. He likes the puzzle that is building my new body, and he has a better colour to him now. He’s listening to me when I tell him to eat, or rest, or shower (he makes the air scrubbers down in Engineering work hard sometimes). He’s looking after himself more. Every day, that awful sickness seems more and more like a memory I should archive.
He dropped his virtual self into my systems yesterday to look at the inertial dampening issue. He seems to be doing that more often. Dropping into my systems, that is, not playing with my IDs. Most of the time, it’s necessary for the work he’s doing: integrating new weapons or checking the data routing to the Bridge consoles for feedback sensitivity. Other times, the reason feels thinner.
I don’t mind, though. I like it when he visits me. He holds my hand and I don’t feel like a ship at all. He kisses me sometimes, just before he logs out, or I kiss him. He makes me giddy and silly inside, and I’m starting to look forward to when he links in next. There’s this smile he gets when I surprise him, as if he has forgotten that I’m there or that I’m… I don’t know. As if he has only just realised that he can touch my hand when he’s in there.
He gets this other look sometimes, when he thinks I’m not looking. He looks worried and a little sad. I don’t know where it comes from: I ask him what’s wrong and then he smiles and it’s like I imagined it. He touches my cheek and tells me it’s all fine, and I don’t know whether to melt or be furious with him.
All I know for sure is that I don’t want him to stop visiting me.
It’s very distracting. I need to focus on the work at hand, on analysing the star’s patterns and coming up with the best way of countering the tides so I can calm them. Everyone is asleep right now, and my scenario simulators are all chock-full of permutations to test, and I’m otherwise twiddling my electronic thumbs. It’s hard not to watch him sleep. To watch the rise and fall of his biorhythms and wonder what he’s dreaming about. Bit is there beside him most of the time, doing much the same thing, if not quite for the same reason.
Now I’m wondering if it’s a bit creepy. It’s his own fault for falling asleep in Engineering again, slumped over one of the counters. He’d probably think it was creepy that I watch him, though, if he knew. And it’s silly. I should be doing something useful with my time. I should send Bit off to clean out the ducts; it’s the job he was built for. This sentiment is foolish and wasteful. And… going where?
I don’t want to think about this. It’s stupid. It’s just a nice… thing… with kissing, and… Dammit. Not thinking about this!
I’m going back to supervising my boys in their work. While the crew sleeps, Big Ass and Wide Load are rearranging the cargo bays. They’re unpacking the next lot of equipment to be installed, and sorting the parts that have been removed from my innards into neat rows. Waldo is patiently coiling cables, after Elliott ripped a whole slew of them out of a bulkhead earlier today. By morning, it will all be cleaned, sorted, and laid out ready to be reused.
I’ve sent Bit off to sort Elliott’s tools as well. Elliott gets grumpy when we do that but that’s just his habit. He likes it when he can find things, and his efficiency is much better after we ignore him and tidy his work areas. I checked his data. I didn’t tell him, though; he’d just swear at me for interfering with his work.
Casper is sliding a pillow under Elliott’s head and drawing a blanket over his shoulders. I could just modulate the temperature in the room, but he sleeps more quietly when there’s a blanket on him. I wonder where that instinct comes from.
Perhaps I’m only curious about his dreams because I don’t have any of my own. Or maybe it’s because I walked in his head once and saw his nightmares. They weren’t truly his, though: they were the twisted ones Tripi inflicted on him. I don’t know how much influence he had over them.
Idiot ship, still letting him distract you from doing something important.
Oh look, there’s Dr Valdimir leaving the Lieutenant’s quarters. They’re still spending many nights together, locked in the cell we’ve given to our pirate prisoner.
The Chief isn’t happy about the frequency of the doctor’s access to the cell, but she hasn’t altered the security yet. Even though the Lieutenant hasn’t ever tried anything, trust isn’t high on our list of things to do right now. Should he try anything, I can always trip his captive collar and flatten him, even if he gets out of the cell.
The sensors in the corridor catch a glimpse of him through the open door, before it slides shut behind the doctor. Lieutenant Laurence is sprawled on the bed and escape seems to be the furthest thing from his mind. The sheet is rumpled as it lies over him, and he doesn’t bother to cover his metal feet at all. He’s propped up on a prosthetic elbow, watching the doctor leave with sleepy eyes and a smile on the flesh side of his mouth.
The door is closed now and I can tell from the energy consumption of the room that he has put out the light. I give him his privacy because I see no reason not to; I check in randomly enough to know he’s not doing anything untoward in there.
Dr Valdimir is smiling quietly to himself as he heads to his room. His clothes are loose, barely fastened, but that’s not unusual; he seldom stays the whole night with his lover. Tonight he seems like he has a secret, or he just won a silent bet. It’s not the smile of a deliriously happy man after spending an evening with someone he’s in love with; I know what that looks like (Danika had seen it). It is a smile of satisfaction, though. Maybe the sex is just that good, even with all the metal parts involved. I guess he doesn’t mind his lover being part machinery.
Danika never really understood that. I mean, sure, she had implants herself, but no real prosthetics. And flesh-looking prosthetics didn’t bother her – she dated a guy with a fake leg once, but it was so real-looking that she could hardly tell – but when the parts looked truly mechanical? It wasn’t what she considered sexy. I don’t know if she would ever have turned someone away just because of that – it never came up – but it would have been a wrinkle in the fabric.
On the other hand, some people really go for that kind of thing. The more implants and prosthetics are available, the more the kinks become mainstream. But the doctor doesn’t seem like a metalophile or a mechophile. He just doesn’t seem to care that much, even though the Lieutenant is more metal than most. It makes me wonder what he does look for in a partner. Is it more psychological than physical for him? Or is he that open to physical options?
I wonder what Elliott– no, no I don’t. I’m not going there. I don’t have anything like a physical body that he could… even if he wanted… and he doesn’t. And we don’t… we’re not like that. Are we? I can’t hold him that way. I have a holographic avatar and that’s enough.
It’s different for us anyway. We’re different. I’m not even the same species, or alive, or… yeah.
I’m going to go back to not watching him sleep. Maybe I’ll run some more complex gravity tide simulations for a while, and see if I can have a way to fix Corsica by morning. Staring into the sun seems like the best way to occupy myself right now.
I wonder if she’s watching us, too.