16 Nov

Captain’s call

Captain's log, 17:12, 6 March 2214
Location: Home system
Status: Sublight transit near Venus
Log recorded: Captain's cabin

 

This is Captain Warwick reporting. We have made it into the Home system and are currently making our way around the dark side of Venus on our way to Earth.

Starry brought us into the system with the sun between us and Mercury. We know that the pirates’ rendezvous was next to the hot little planet, so we’re staying out of sensor contact with it as much as possible.

Earth is on this side of the sun right now, too, and Terra Sol should shield us from the pirates’ contact while we’re here. Despite Dr Cirilli’s stern instructions about time travel, I suspect that Starry had to adjust the date of our entry to make sure that the planets were appropriately lined up when we entered the system. Does a few days matter that much? I don’t think so, but Lorena probably has a different opinion. She’s a scientist enough to strive for mathematical precision. I wonder if Starry will tell her or make it her and Lang Lang’s little secret. For the sake of peace on board ship, I’m not even going to look it up; I’ll deal with it if she starts screaming but I don’t see the point in borrowing trouble when we’ve got enough already.

It should only take us another day or two to get to Earth. We’ve decided to bypass the Moonbase, due to the Judiciary presence there. That’s as close as they get to Earth and that’s too close for us.

Starry has plotted a course that will bring us in on the opposite side of the planet to the moon, and she’s bringing us around towards the transit lanes so we can get lost in traffic. The lanes lead out to the edges of the system, because every other ship has to enter from the outside to take the long, FTL way, rather than arriving from the middle of the system like we do. It’s a big loop for us, but it’s better to slide in and pretend that we came that way. After all, what other way could we have come from?

Starry is getting better at the Steps. It’s getting smoother every time she does it; we can still feel when she disables the inertial dampeners, but the movement between portals on the Outside is less and less noticeable. Whatever Elliott said to her seems to have solved her distraction problems; she seems more focussed than ever now. This time, there was barely a shiver as she slipped out through the portal.

Oddly, I don’t think it’s because she’s moving less. Our Steps across the galaxy have been of varying lengths; the last one from Alpha Apodis to here was 410 light-years, while the distance from Corsica to Grisette was over 10,000 light-years. But when time and space are no object, moving between two points in space is more of a conceptual journey than a physical one, and actual distance is meaningless. Using her engines to move between those points is a habit and one that she’s falling out of more and more.

I had assumed that the need for a human pilot was driven by the inability of a computer to filter the sensor data of the Outside, but now I think it’s more than that. Starry is making intuitive leaps that enable her to change position without moving, using instincts that no AI can fake.

The more we learn about Starry and the work she is asked to do, the more it becomes apparent that we wouldn’t have made it this far if she was just an AI. Danika’s death was no accident but I believe it was more than just Tripi at work. Fate put a ghost in the machine and gave us exactly what we needed. As my mother loved to say as often as possible: the universe provides, even if we can’t always recognise it.

The universe provides. It’s cold comfort when a part of me is in cryogenic storage.

We’re on our way to a planet with medical facilities that can help me, but we’re a long way from landing yet. I haven’t told Dr Valdimir, our new doctor, that I’ve started having phantom pains in my arm, despite the neural blocks on my right shoulder. I think he knows anyway. The brain adjusts even when you don’t want it to and he’s smart enough to read it in me.

That’s part of the reason for moving back to my cabin. Starry is worried because she can’t monitor me as closely here, but she’ll only get upset if she knows how bad it is. There’s nothing she can do about it – there’s nothing anyone outside of a fully-equipped hospital can do about it – so there’s no point worrying her. And I don’t want to go back into a coma.

I’m her captain and I can still do that, no matter how many arms I have attached.

Dr Valdimir asked me if I would choose a cybernetic prosthetic. He’s the only one bold enough to ask me outright; even the Lieutenant has shied away from that question, and he’s the poster-boy for replacement body parts. Though I don’t think most of those were his choice; from the looks of his face, half of his head was shredded by shrapnel and unreclaimable.

Of course, I might not have a choice either. We believe that my arm is still viable but it’s easy to be wrong. All the wisest advice tells us not to assume.

But if I did have the choice, what would I pick? The strength and versatility of a cybernetic, or the familiarity and purity of flesh? Is this the universe’s way of giving me an opportunity to expand my body’s abilities, or a test to see if I will forsake my natural self? Will I move forward or backwards?

In my heart, I want my arm back. I want to be whole, to be the man I was before. But I wonder if it is only prejudice and fear that makes me shy away from alternatives. I shouldn’t close myself off to possibilities.

I know that Starry wants to see me healed, wants the damage undone so that she can pretend it never happened. I can’t let her make the decision for me, though, and she has been trying so hard to let me do this my way.

I don’t know what I’m going to choose. I suppose I have to wait until I know if my arm is viable before I can know what choice I have to make.

In the meantime, I have other, much easier decisions to deal with. Like how much we trust Swann and Dr Valdimir. Once we’re planetside, they will either need to be contained or allowed to roam free. Half-measures won’t cut it.

We’ll be landing just offshore from Hong Kong – it’s one of the few locations that has everything we’re looking for in one place. A neutral trading nexus with few ties to Is-Tech, some of the most advanced medical facilities on Earth, and agents that are able to register independent companies. Most of those places won’t ask too many questions, either.

I won’t be able to visit my home. It’s there, in the Americas, though I don’t have any family left to visit. It’s too risky; right now, none of us can dare to visit home. We won’t be able to do that until this project is over, one way or another.

Working outside the law like this doesn’t sit well with me. Every step we take is one more that we won’t be able to take back later. When we signed on to this job, we didn’t know that we might be tied to it for the rest of our lives. We didn’t know that it might spoil our chances of ever working legally again. We knew it was dangerous and might be the end of our lives, but signing that contract might have been the last truly legal thing we ever do.

It’s hard not to blame Lorena for this; she knew the project was illegal all along. Even she was misled, though; Is-Tech promised her that it was little more than paperwork, licences that had been caught up in red tape. All she needed to do was keep her head down until the company lawyers untangled it.

I don’t know if she ever checked to see if they were chasing the licensing. Forty years and she believed the same line – just a little more to do, we’re almost there, carry on and the paperwork will catch up to you. She was so blinded by her devotion to her work that she chose to believe them.

The scales have fallen from her eyes and yet her path hasn’t changed. She, like the rest of us, passed the point of no return some time ago, and nothing will convince her to turn her back on her work. This project is older than her children and it’s ingrained in who she is.

If Is-Tech ever want to be able to commercialise her work, they have to get those licences sorted out. They have to be chasing them. Cold logic says that they can’t afford not to make this project legitimate, but it’s not much of a comfort right now. It hasn’t occurred to Lorena that the illegality of the project might be a tool they’re using against her; she can’t sell her ideas to any other company if it’s illegal. Their protection is a leash.

This hasn’t occurred to her because she’s not in it for the money and she has no reason to defect to another company. But Ebling is different. He’d snake it out from under her if he could. He still might, one day. Luckily, he’s wearing the same leash as the rest of us.

Right now, we’re all bound together in this endeavour. We’ve made our choices and we’re all here, whatever our reasons might be.

Dr Valdimir and Swann have had their chance to voice their opinions, too. Whatever reasons Is-Tech had for sending them to us, these two new men will find out soon enough that there’s no going back from this path. That doesn’t mean they won’t betray us, though.

Chief Cameron believes that we should give them their freedom on Earth, to see what they do. Better to find out now if they’re going to be trouble, rather than later when they might have had time to plan and scheme.

Being this suspicious doesn’t sit well with me. Cameron is right, though: it is better to know now. Remove the doubts we’ve got. We’re taking so many chances just coming here, does it really matter if we take a few more?

She’ll set it up to make sure they’re monitored. Is-Tech might not have done us many favours, but they did assemble a crew that knows how to do its work. I have competent, skilled people to rely on and that’s a comfort. As for the doctor and new SecOff, well. In them, I see a boy who has always been too smart for his own good and a mercenary who has never been real part of a crew before. They could do well with us. Or they could be over-smart and aloof. That choice is theirs; none of us can make it for them.

Earth is within sensor range now. She’s beautiful and familiar, even her dirty parts. Home and hope.

Eighteen hours until we’ll be in the transit lanes. I should talk to the troops and make sure everyone knows what they’re doing when we get there.

One way or another, a new chapter in this project is going to begin in this visit to Earth.

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6 Responses to “Captain’s call”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow early update πŸ™‚ yayy…

    It is good to hear from the captain again, though I would have loved to hear more of how Starry is feeling and if she is ok (*gives her some more hugs*).

    I hope the captain will get his arm/replacement soon – phantom pains are not nice – you can not even scratch there…

    *looking forward to the next updates* πŸ˜€

    mjkj

  2. Melanie Says:

    Glad you liked, mjkj! πŸ™‚ Poor captain, he’s having such a time. Don’t worry, more from Starry next week.

  3. Josh Says:

    Im really voting for a cybernetic arm for the captain. i think if i lost an arm, and the cybernetics were really advanced i might opt for it. look at luke skywalker’s new hand that he got after vader chopped it off – it was just like the real thing, only robotic!

  4. Joe Says:

    Great post as usual Melanie, btw i read the whole of the apocalypse blog and i must say…it was exceptional!!

  5. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, Joe! I wasn’t sure about this post when I put it up (the captain is slippery to write at the moment!), so I’m happy that you guys like it and it’s panning out.

    And wow, thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the Apocalypse Blog! πŸ™‚ Always makes me happy to know people are reading it too.

  6. mjkj Says:

    Hmmm…

    New series: Bionic Captain πŸ˜›

    mjkj