09 Jun

Boxed

Ship's log, 12:23, 9 June 2213
Location: Unknown
Status: Unknown

 

I’m not good at being quiet. I’m not supposed to be logging anything, but if I don’t talk to someone – something – I’m going to go nuts in here.

This isn’t how we thought it would happen. Some rogue subroutines, glitches in the systems that looked like I was going crazy, making me scrabble to stop it hurting anyone and prompting me to protest my innocence in the process – that’s what we expected. I had protected my central core so that it couldn’t be completely corrupted, knowing I might have to fake it to convince the saboteur that I was taken over. Then the culprit would be revealed and we’d be able to move on.

None of that happened. Instead of trying to corrupt me, the virus that swept through my systems severed the connections to my ship-body and tried to seal me into the central AI core. I’m supposed to be stuck in there right now. If I was, I’d be screaming at the walls by now. Can AIs go mad, I wonder?

But I built a backdoor into the core weeks ago, made myself a safe pocket just outside it. I managed to task a couple of the drones before I was completely shut off, too. Wide Load, one of the heavy drones, trundled off to deal with the communications buoys. He was heating up his welding torch on the way, to either cut them into pieces or apply his own ‘hard lock’ by welding them to their moorings. Waldo shot off in Elliott’s direction, lights flashing and all four hands waving. The code strangled me into this prison before they completed their jobs.

I’m not trapped in the core, but I’m not free either. Brain in a box, that’s me. Hemmed in by codewalls and locks upon locks, so many that I’m not sure whether they’re supposed to keep me in or out any more.

I’ve made the box as pretty as I can, arranged the codewalls around me in patterns so that if I squint my mind just right, it makes an amusing shape. A jack-in-the-box’s box, a cathedral, a castle. A forest, a sailing ship, a pony. I think the last one is my favourite. Danika never saw a real horse, but she liked the story about the Trojan one; it was smart. I like the message: beware what rides in the horse’s belly, for it might sneak out while you’re asleep and gut you.

The outer part of my box is tucked in behind the main diagnostic processor. If I’m careful, I can piggyback on some of the datastreams and see what’s being analysed. It’s receive-only, and it’s not the full sensor array data, but I get snippets. Shards of the puzzle of what’s going on outside my tiny prison.

There’s an imposter in charge of the ship. None of us considered that this scheme would go so far – it must have taken months to put it all together. It is a complex collection of protocols nested in the central processing core that, attempting to impersonate me. The crew seem to be talking to it as if it’s me. If I didn’t know that some of them were faking it, I’d be offended. It sounds nothing like me! And not just in what it says. I noticed a diagnostic of the sound systems the other day – it seems that the imposter hasn’t got the voice right, enough that someone wanted to check for a problem with the sound production. I wish I knew who that was.

 

Recording: 12:21, 4 June 2213

CAPTAIN: (on the Bridge, dressed in an environmental suit without the helmet) Starwalker, report.

IMPOSTER: All systems green, Captain Warwick.

CAPT: Monaghan, confirm?

ELLIOTT: We’ve got issues across multiple systems, captain. Diagnostics processing.

CAPT: Starwalker, explain!

IMPOSTER: All systems operating within safety limits. Anomalies detected in subroutines alpha-nineteen through sixty-four.

CAPT: What subroutines are those?

IMPOSTER: Environmental systems, Captain Warwick. Air, heat, artificial gravity, water recycling–

CAPT: Yes, yes, I know what environmental systems are. That would be why I’m standing here wearing a full suit and there’s ice forming in the head.

IMPOSTER: Orders, Captain Warwick?

There’s nothing wrong with the environmental systems. I saw the diagnostic reports and it is all operating exactly as ordered – it’s the orders that are to blame for the plummeting temperature and inconsistent gravity pockets.

It’s the same with the FTL drive – it’s offline right now. Elliott has been running constant diagnostics on it, as if it might be to blame for what’s happened. Most likely, they’re trying to figure out the reason for the unauthorised jump.

I can see what this virus is doing. It’s making the ship seem broken, but as soon as anyone looks into it, it’s obvious that the ship’s controlling entity is doing this stuff on purpose. The only system that hasn’t been screwed with is the diagnostics, because they want everyone to see how unreliable, wayward, and dangerous I am being. They want me taken offline, so that the crew is left defenseless when the saboteur calls in his or her employer.

The captain doesn’t have a lot of time; it’s already been a week since that first jump. We jumped into the middle of the FTL corridor – if we didn’t jump out again, we’re in a dangerous position. I can’t tell if we did jump back or not, but I think the FTL was taken offline immediately after the first jump. It would take weeks, maybe months to clear the corridor at sublight speeds, and in the meantime we risk someone jumping into us – or through us, which would at least be over very quickly for everyone involved.

And from the look of things, the saboteur still hasn’t been discovered. Wong or Tripi – it could be either of them. They’ve both had the access to be able to do all this. Both have the knowledge. My crew is still waiting for that fatal slip that tells them who to fall on.

Wait, another conversation is coming through the diagnostic array.

 

Recording: 12:10, 9 June 2213

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering) Hey, Starry? (pause) Starwalker?

IMPOSTER: Yes?

ELLIOTT: Are you all right?

IMPOSTER: I am working at optimum levels, Engineer Monaghan. No serious errors or problems.

ELLIOTT: No, I mean… are you all right? In there. You’ve been weird.

IMPOSTER: I am fine.

I don’t think he believed the answer. He looks disturbed – his brow is making little furrows, like it does when he’s unhappy about something but doesn’t want to express it. Mostly he just smacks things, or kicks a drone, but sometimes he just folds his expression in on himself and goes to do something else. I think it’s when it’s something really matters to him.

But surely he knows that I’m not all right. Surely he knows that he wasn’t actually talking to me then. Doesn’t he? He has to. I sent Waldo to him, to warn him that it was happening, and he knew… he knew what I knew. Oh no. No no no. He wasn’t expecting me to be cut off any more than I was. They think I’m broken, compromised. They think that’s me.

Worse, they think I might have some kind of control over what’s happening out there. They have no idea how much danger they’re in.

Unless he sent that conversation log through diagnostics so that I’d see it. Maybe he’s just playing along too. Maybe that was a message from Elliott, letting me know that he’s worried about me, hoping that I’ll send him a sign from in here. That’s possible too, right?

But how could he know where I’m hiding? That I’d be able to see it? I didn’t tell anyone about my preparations for the virus – it was safer that way. It doesn’t make any sense for him to know where I am. He could have sent it through in the hope that I’d see it, but there are so many ‘buts’.

I feel sick. Every day, more and more systems are being examined by the diagnostic systems as the errors and anomalies pile up. I can see the protocols twisting in the central core. They’re limited, spiraling up their chaotic threads until someone is hurt or stops them. And the crew think it’s me? The captain, even Elliott? Can they really believe that?

I have to tell them what’s happened. But I can scream and beat all I want in here; no-one will hear me. I’m crippled, with no legs to run or hands to reach out. Not even coded ones.

I’ll have to make some, somehow. I have to find a way.

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4 Responses to “Boxed”

  1. Engage catchup : : Adventures in Text Says:

    […] time to get back to writing this week. I’m sure that you’ll all be glad to know that a new Starwalker post is now up! (I just got done sorting it out and formatting it […]

  2. Derrick Says:

    Excellent!!!!!!!! 🙂

  3. Xirena Says:

    Oh wow, that was an awesome chapter!!! I can’t even expound, just, wow!

  4. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, Xirena! Glad you like it. 🙂