20 Apr

Cavalry sighted

Ship's log, 10:52, 26 January 2214
Location: Gienah System, Corvus constellation
Status: Sublight transit (tethered)

 

Things are shifting on my decks, subtly and only when no-one else is looking. I’m full of smiling ghosts who sidestep whenever someone glances away.

The captain is talking with the rest of the crew, making arrangements and setting up plans. Whispers across my network, tunnelled between their quarters so the pirates don’t pick it up. Secret sectors of my systems, erected in the dark and opened with private handshakes. There are snakes sleeping in them, some still barely eggs but developing quickly. We’re all running short of sleep, nerves on knife edges; I’m the only one who isn’t tired.

I’m sure if the captain could have, he would’ve set it up so we didn’t have to worry about any of this. He has that sort of mind. I should probably listen to him more, but until recently, he wasn’t pushing hard enough for my liking. He wasn’t thinking out of the box. Now, though, he is. Now he’s sneaking conversations with Elliott and Cameron, and even drew Maletz in for his opinion.

He’s a different person these days. When the pirate guards have done their checks on him and left him alone, he comes alive, so determined to make things happen. I love to see him so animated and determined to survive, but I wish it hadn’t taken this to make it happen. I have to find a way to see him like this when we’re free and clear again. In the meantime, I guess I have to make do, same as with everything else.

Just another day or so to the star. Another day before we might have to Step. We have to be ready, but getting our countermeasures in place takes time. We’re going to have to stall, maybe claim that the Step drive needs some extra calibration. Dammit, that means I’m going to have to ask Cirilli for a favour.

I’m almost through to the pirates’ comms traffic. It’s so intermittent that it’s hard to get enough time to make progress before they shut it off again. The algorythms change in a cyclical pattern, so I only need another comms burst or two to finish the hack; then I can listen in on everything they’re saying. I’d love to get a look at Hunt’s contract to capture us and find out the details of what he’s been asked to do.

It feels like breaking my word to our captors; it feels like a betrayal. There’s a part of me that just wants to play by the rules and trust that everything will turn out all right. Everyone knows that won’t happen, no matter where we end up: it’s just a question of who comes out on top in the end.

 

Signature detected.

 

What? We’re not due to be meeting anyone else, are we? I’m pretty sure that Hunt’s posse is only three ships strong. They need to test the Star Step drive before they hand it over – and I think Hunt is curious to see it work again – so this can’t be their clients.

Unless someone has double-crossed someone else and now–

 

Signature detected.

 

 
HALF-FACE: (jogging to the Bridge, over pirate comms) I’m on it, captain.

 

Pirates are running everywhere. They’re not sure if they should be guarding the crew quarters or not yet. I haven’t even changed my alert status; they’re getting warnings from their own comms.

On the plus side, all the comms activity means my hack program now has plenty of data to chew on. Won’t be long now.

 

HALF-FACE: (arriving on the Bridge) Ship, take us to Alert Level 1.

STARRY: (materialising in the holo-tank) Shifting to Level 1. What’s going on?

 

Alert Level 1 activated.

 

 
HALF-FACE: Not sure yet. Give me a display of the system.

STARRY: (disappears from the main tank, to make room for a holographic representation of the Gienah system) They’re not yours?

HALF-FACE: Nope.

 

External communications detected.

 

STARRY: They’re hailing.

HALF-FACE: Hunt will deal with it.

STARRY: You don’t want to listen in?

HALF-FACE: The captain will let us know what we need to know.

 

He has a lot more faith in Hunt than I do.

My crew are all locked in their quarters, so I can pipe the comms traffic to them without the pirates knowing. Keep them up to date. I have a captain quite capable of making decisions in an emergency, and I, for one, have no qualms about listening to him.

 

DR CIRILLI: (on mid-deck) Starwalker, what’s going on?

STARRY: Not sure yet. I’ll let you know when I do.

 

There’s always one who has to be impatient. Cirilli and her team are doing diagnostics on the Step drive and there is a a couple of pirates stationed to keep guard over them, so I can’t let them listen in on what’s happening. They’re all looking at each other uncertainly and securing their stations. The filaments are mostly repaired after the damage caused by the tether clamps, and there’s still the sensors to check out. They haven’t finished diagnostics or calibration of the Step drive. Whatever happens now, we won’t be Stepping out of here.

 

UNKNOWN SHIP: (over external comms) …I repeat, this is the Davey Jones. Identify yourselves.

BOUNTIFUL: This is the Bountiful. What can we do for you, Davey Jones?

DAVEY JONES: We are searching for a lost ship, last seen in this region.

BOUNTIFUL: No lost ships here, I’m afraid.

 

A ship lost in this region? I wasn’t lost here, but I did go missing on the way. Could they be looking for me?

 

CAPTAIN: (in his cabin, at his desk) Can you pick up their idents, Starry?

STARRY: Checking. Okay, I can scrape the idents off the comm traffic. Displaying now.

CAPT: (frowns at the data) Those are Is-Tech idents.

STARRY: Is-Tech? Are you sure?

CAPT: From those codes, yes.

STARRY: Does Hunt know?

CAPT: If he doesn’t now, he will soon.

 

They’re here for me. After all this time, I have proof that the company who made me actually care whether I’m around or not. Okay, I know that’s it’s all monetary. It’s about protecting their investment and future revenue streams, and securing their place in the shipbuilding market. It’s business. But they’re going out of their way to help me. To make sure that I’m all right. That has to mean something, to me if not to them.

I thought we were on our own out here. Left to fend for ourselves, swinging in the winds of entities bigger than my scout-sized hull. But maybe not.

And maybe there’s a way out for my crew.

 

DAVEY JONES: You haven’t intercepted any distress buoys in this region? Picked up any extra ships?

BOUNTIFUL: The only ships we have with us are our own. Sorry, Davey Jones, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

 

I could send them a burst, let them know I’m here. Wave a flag for them. Dammit, now I see why the pirates left me tethered to the Bountiful.

But if I make a move now, if I do something to hurt the pirates, and the Is-Tech ships lose, then my crew will pay the price. Whatever concessions I’ve secured for them will be cancelled. Even if it’s just me, even if none of my people are involved, Hunt will punish them in my stead. He might order Morra to try to wipe me again, but I can protect myself; it’s the others who need me to do the right thing for them now.

I am still their ship, and I owe my loyalty to them. Not to Is-Tech, not if I have to choose.

Wait, the Is-Tech ships are still closing on our position. They’re using the conversation with the Bountiful to get closer to us. They want to get into range to pick up our idents. Mine’s a fake. They’ll know there’s a ship here but not that it’s me. Dammit!

How did they know that I was out here? And in trouble?

 

STARRY: (to the captain’s cabin) What should we do?

CAPT: (frowning at the nav display, showing the positions of the system bodies and the six ships – one cluster of four and two approaching from a high vector) Could they win a fight, do you think?

STARRY: I don’t know. The Is-Tech ships are of a similar size to the two cruisers, but I can’t tell how well-armed they are. They don’t look like standard cruisers.

CAPT: Probably a new configuration they’re testing for the military.

STARRY: So, more powerful than the cruisers?

CAPT: It’s possible.

STARRY: And there’s the scout.

CAPT: True. Can you show me everything you have on the Davey Jones and the other ship?

STARRY: The Kraken Unbound? You have it. And– hold on.

CAPT: What is it?

STARRY: I think I have the pirate comms open.

 

Pieces of code are lining up and falling into step, and I’ve opened a crack in their pipe. I can latch in now and listen to their conversations. I can hear what they’re planning.

 

HUNT: (over pirate comms) …with the Jones and Mercy, you take the Kraken. Mandible, I want you in backup and keeping an eye on our package.

VARIOUS VOICES: Aye, sir.

HUNT: Lieutenant Laurence, secure the package. I want no slips from that direction.

HALF-FACE: Aye, sir. I’ll make sure.

HUNT: Form up!

 

Secure me? What the hell does that mean? I’m already secure, aren’t I? At least as far as they’re concerned.

Except for me. They know I’m unpredictable and inclined to take things into my own electronic hands. They know there’s a hundred ways that I could signal the two approaching ships.

And they know how to control me. There are pirates jogging down my corridors, peeling off towards the crew quarters. And, oh god, one’s heading to Engineering.

 

STARRY: (in the Bridge) What’s happening? Why are your men running all over me?

HALF-FACE: (grimly) Sorry, Starry. I need to make sure you’re going to behave.

STARRY: I haven’t tried anything!

HALF-FACE: And if you’re smart, you’ll keep doing that.

 

Dammit!

 

CAPT: (blinking with surprise when his desk console flicks off) Starry, what the–

(The door to his cabin opens and an armed pirate enters, weapon trained on the captain.)

PIRATE: Stay exactly where you are.

CAPT: (lifts his hands slowly.)

STARRY: (in Engineering) Elliott, watch yourself.

ELLIOTT: (frowns as his display of the nav data disappears) What’s going on?

STARRY: Guard coming your way. Just do what he says.

ELLIOTT: What? Fuck no.

STARRY: Please, Elliott. They’re covering everyone and I’ve got no cards left to play.

ELLIOTT: Fuck. (He turns towards the door.)

(The door opens and a pirate SecOff moves quickly through it, scanning the mess that is Engineering for sign of Elliott.)

ELLIOTT: (puts his scanner down with a clatter and lifts his hands.)

STARRY: (softly, only for Elliott) Thank you.

 

The pirates know what they’re doing; they’ve prepared for this. One in every crew cabin, one in Med Bay, but only those two up on mid-deck to make sure the science contingent doesn’t start anything.

Interesting. They seem to think that the science team are the least threat on board. I’ll keep that in mind. I’m not sure what for yet, but I can use that. John, Elliott, Cameron, Rosie, Maletz – they all have guns to their heads and collars ready to cripple them at the nudge of a button. We’re not ready for this. Damn you, Is-Tech! Why did you have to turn up now?

What I said to Elliott is true: I don’t have any cards to play. I should sit here like a helpless lump and let them fight over me. If I turn against the pirates, I’ll lose everything I care about, whether we get away or not. But the Is-Tech ships… if I work against them, I can blame the pirates and my hostage crew. I can say I had no choice.

I have one choice now. Only one that makes sense.

 

STARRY: (on the Bridge) Lieutenant Laurence? I think I can help.

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12 Responses to “Cavalry sighted”

  1. Blik Says:

    How would Starry be able to claim that she had no choice? According to Is-Tech, she’s just an AI. Don’t they have strict morality codes built in, so that she “should” hail her owners against the Pirates’ wishes? There’s no way to “threaten” an AI.

    Starry’s in a bind here – the only viable option for her is to HELP the pirates escape. If Is-Tech recaptures her at this point, she’ll be Wiped for sure.

    And another question. Is the Star Stepper Drive able to open a hole that another ship can go through? Or do they open one rip in SpaceTime, then travel through Nothing until they rip another hole to get out? And could any other ship survive that?

  2. mjkj Says:

    Wow, that could get ugly – I just hope nobody of Starry’s cerw gets killed – so, why are they looking there in the first place? It seems like they have some kind of inside information – maybe some kind of beacon they have set up somewhere it would not be detected sending on a very special frequency noone would even look at…

    I just wonder what Starry is up to…

    mjkj

    PS: missing word suspected: “My crew are all locked in their quarters, so I can pipe the comms traffic them without the pirates knowing.” => missing the word “to” there => “… comms traffic *to* them …”

  3. Seedie Says:

    Oh wow, this story is incredible! I just came across it last Friday and I’ve been staying up late to read it from beginning to now. You’ve created a fantastic story, and you are a fantastic writer!!

    Your writing is so smooth and easy to read, it’s like I’m right there as the story unfolds; I don’t even realize I’m ‘reading’. And how you’ve put the story line together…you had me hooked on the second post! There’s no, what’s it called, – ‘suspension of disbelief’.

    You have me addicted! And what a lovely addiction it is…please, please keep up your excellent efforts!

  4. Belial666 Says:

    Even if other ships can follow Starry into a step there’s the little matter of the star itself. Starry has a specially made antiradiation/antithermal layer to survive getting really close and personal with stars. Do other ships have the same protection?

  5. Melanie Says:

    Blik – I think a lot of that is Starry thinking more human than AI. Her protocols push her more towards protecting her mission and crew than loyalty to her company.

    The Star Step is still experimental and no-one has tried to send a non-Stepping ship through. That’s probably Phase 2 of the project. So that’s a good question!

    mjkj – thanks for pointing that out! Missing word has been added. 🙂

    Belial666 – yup! She has to get in closer than other ships can to open the portal. Bigger ships would also struggle more against the star’s gravity due to their mass.

  6. Melanie Says:

    Hi, Seedie, and welcome to the blog! 🙂

    Thank you so much for commenting. I’m glad you’re enjoying the story! And delighted that you’re so happily immersed in it.

    Lots more to come! I hope you’ll stay with us for the ride. 🙂

  7. brightlilim Says:

    Nice going! I like the tug of loyalties Starry is experiencing! I agree that her loyalties wouldn’t be to the company first; the company might expect an AI’s priorities to be the crew, then the experiment. What they probably would not expect is for her to initiate any plans or actions of her own.

    The other thing I would say is that as this experiment is SO valuable and unique, it’s possible that the company would have built-in some kind of safeguard/override on the ship’s AI to ensure that if necessary, they could regain control over their ship/experiment. That could be much more interesting if that override hasn’t been found yet, and Starry starts reacting unexpectedly to all, including herself!

    As for the Star-Stepping, it looks from the previous experiment carried out by Starry that any other ship following her might find itself disintegrating on the molecular or atomic level during the jump, and with no way of escaping the jump other than completing it, the results might be rather lethal for the crew of any following ships.

  8. Belial666 Says:

    Why would bigger ships struggle more against a star’s gravity? If ship A has the same mass-to-thrust ratio as shib B but ship B is 100 times more massive, the gravity-vs-thrust ratio is still the same for both so they’d struggle the same.
    Ditto for big slow ships vs small fast ships. A battleship should have the exact same mobility as a starfighter in space if they had the same comparative size of engines.

    The only way mobility difference between spaceships would be a factor would be if they had different mass/thrust ratio. Which would mean they’d be intantionally built so the battleship is slower than the starfighter.

  9. mjkj Says:

    [quote=Belial]Why would bigger ships struggle more against a star’s gravity? If ship A has the same mass-to-thrust ratio as ship B but ship B is 100 times more massive, the gravity-vs-thrust ratio is still the same for both so they’d struggle the same.[/quote]
    Well, that is the problem – to get the same mass-/gravity-to-thrust ratio you would need much bigger/stronger engines…
    It might be up to several times the size/power of the engine you would need to just put the double mass into the same ratio.

  10. mjkj Says:

    I mean, to produce that much thrust to equal out that ratio.

  11. Melanie Says:

    It’s usually accepted that the bigger a ship is, the lower it’s thrust:mass ratio, as they often need to have more mass dedicated to other purposes, such as supporting its crew for long periods of time. I would expect a starfighter to be much faster than a battleship because it doesn’t have to contain stores of equipment, crew quarters, environmental processing, etc, and so more of its makeup can be dedicated to engines and weapons.

    A scout-class like the Starwalker has smaller weapons capacity than a fighting vessel and more room for engine/thrust (unless it’s converted to a pirate ship like the Mandible, in which case crew areas are sacrificed to squeeze in more weapons and larger engines).

    Cargo ships could possibly rival battleships on speed, as they’re basically a huge engine tugging on cargo mass, though they’re unlikely to have the same manoeuvrability (mostly because they don’t need it).

    The exception to this would be FTL: all ships need to be able to ‘jump’ up to the required FTL speeds, regardless of mass, so the thrust:mass ratio of the FTL engines must be the same for all ships. The FTL engines are separate to the sublights – all they do is the punch in and out of FTL. So the differences in speed and manoeuvrability only apply to sublight transit.

    Hopefully all that makes sense!

  12. Belial666 Says:

    Well, an air-superiority class aircraft has 1 pilot (100 or so kilos), air supply system for 8 hours minimum (50 kilos), the pilot’s seat (200 kilos) and the rest of the cockpit life-support and protection equipment (150 kilos). That’s half a ton out of its 20 tons, or 2.5%

    A supercarrier with a crew of 3000 (300 tons), air recycling system (150 tons), bunks and personal effects (300 kilos per person, 900 tons), food for 3 months (500 tons), water recycling + supply for 1 week (200 tons), 200 kilos of life-support and protective gear per person (600 tons), 200 kilos of gear/equipment per person (600 tons), for a total of 3250 tons out of 100.000 tons, or 3.2%

    So the crew, life support and supplies are a tiny 0.7% of the mass/thrust ratio difference, if someone built a supercarrier-sized starcraft when compared to a starfighter. That’s because large vessels are ridiculously massive when compared to their crew, even their crew’s living quarters and gear. So, the difference has to come from somewhere else, if we assume two vessels were built for the same medium.

    Now, what is, has always been, and will always be the greatest barrier to human construction? Money. Looking at current costs, for latest generation fighters we get $100 million per piece. For supercarriers, we get $14 billion, for the most advanced current design. Given that a supercarrier outmasses a fighter by 5000 times, and costs only 140 times more, it is, mass-to-mass 36 times cheaper.

    Here is the reason battleship-sized vessels are not even close to the capabilities and armament (comparatively speaking) of fighters. They cost a whole freaking lot to make at the same quality and power levels and nobody is going to do it.