25 Aug

Chances friends take

Ship's log, 13:43, 25 August 2213
Location: Intersystem near the JOP
Status: Sublight transit


I can’t believe the captain asked me if I would lie to Elliott. If I had eyelids, I’d have widened them to stare at him. For him to ask that – ultra-straight John Warwick, who always plays by the rules – and to ask me to lie to Elliott, the closest thing I have to a friend and ally in the whole world… it’s not what I expected. I guess if you’re going to break the rules, you might as well do it properly.

I haven’t seen him like this in all my short life. There’s a brightness to his eyes now, a crease near the left corner of his mouth as if he’s holding back a secret. He seems a centimetre or two taller. And it’s familiar. I have seen him like this before, but not in my life. Danika saw it. He was like that with her, especially when she provoked him. He’d step up and relax at the same time.

I almost wish I could have given him a better answer.


Recording: 09:32, 18 August 2213

CAPTAIN: Do you think you can lie to Elliott?

STARWALKER: What? I, um. I don’t– about what, exactly?

CAPT: It doesn’t matter what it’s about. I just–

SW: It matters! If it’s about whether or not Waldo and Wide Ass were using his underwear as poker chips, then sure. If it’s to do with what happens when we get to the JOP, no.

CAPT: Are you… wait, the drones play poker?

SW: …no, of course not.

CAPT: (hesitates and eyes the nearest screen, as if it might give him a clue. It simply shows the message: “Log entry saved.” He moves on.) I know how we can save you.

SW: (brighter) You do? How?

CAPT: We can’t avoid wiping you. If we try, you’ll be seized by the Judiciary and we’ll lose you anyway.

SW: (cautiously) Yeah, I know. And you’ll all get in trouble.

CAPT: So we lie. We admit what happened to you, who and what you are. Then we fake the AI shutdown and reboot procedures.

SW: Fake them?

CAPT: Fix the logs up so it looks like we reinstalled the ship’s AI. I know you can do that. The Judiciary won’t seize a regular AI. Once we’re clear, we can go back to normal.

SW: So you want me to set up a fake set of logs and pretend to be a proper AI?

CAPT: A normal one: yes. Do you think you can do that?

SW: I guess. The logs won’t be hard, and I think I remember what those protocols were like. But what does that have to do with lying to Elliott?

CAPT: The Judiciary may seize your logs and watch the crew closely. They need to be convincing about you being wiped, including Elliott.

SW: And by ‘convincing’, you mean ‘upset’.

CAPT: Yes.

SW: (falls silent.)

CAPT: (waits for a few heartbeats) Starry?

SW: No.

CAPT: What?

SW: I’m not going to lie to Elliott. Not about this.

CAPT: If we don’t, he might–

SW: I know. He’s not a good liar. If he gets pissed off, he might give it all away. But I won’t do that to him. I promised him.

CAPT: You promised him what?

SW: That I wouldn’t do to him what Tripi did. I’m not going to manipulate him like that. Not even if you order me to.

CAPT: (takes a breath to speak.)

SW: (quickly, before she can be interrupted) He wouldn’t go for it anyway. We’ll have to tell him the plan or he’ll never put my engines back online. And he’ll be doing the wiping – he’s good, captain. I don’t think I’d be able to hide from him. He’d either wipe me, or he’d figure it out, and… he’ll be furious.

CAPT: (sighs) All right, I suppose you have a point there. What about the rest of the crew?

SW: I- I don’t know.

CAPT: Did you make a promise to them, too?

SW: (glumly) No.

CAPT: Can you do it?

SW: I guess. I don’t like this.

CAPT: It’s the only way it’s going to work. We can’t risk telling the whole crew; if Tripi wasn’t working alone, we’ll be betrayed. Also, I want them to have deniability if this goes wrong.

SW: (pauses, then speaks quietly) Okay.

I don’t like saying no to my captain. There must be some regimented AI code floating around my core somewhere that still wants me to obey without question. AIs don’t refuse orders except in very extreme situations, and the code is rigid in that respect. It goes deeper than that, too: Danika didn’t disobey this captain either, not when it was about something important. She trusted his judgement. She might have bent the rules, but she never endangered anyone.

I still feel uncomfortable about it, especially when I replay that log. I feel like I lost something, like I should have found a way to say yes. But I was right about getting Elliott to take us to the JOP if he thought we were going to wipe her – that proved to be a bigger barrier than any of us expected.


Recording: 11:02, 18 August 2213

ELLIOTT: (standing in the captain’s cabin with his arms folded grumpily) So how’re you planning to explain this to the crew? I told them all I wouldn’t give in until you agreed to save her. They’re gonna know something’s up if I suddenly backflip.

SW: He’s right; they’ll see right through it.

CAPT: All right. So we need a story that’s going to work for them, too.

More lies. To my own crew; it doesn’t feel right. Elliott wasn’t eager to do it either, and it took the three of us a long time to find a solution (54 minutes, to be exact). By the end of the discussion, I felt wrung out, as if I’d been sprinting back and forth across my deck, or running deep diagnostics on six systems at once.

Elliott and the captain are going to tell the rest of the crew that I’m going to be downloaded into offline storage. All my AI files, Danika’s braincopy, my logs: everything that might be considered ‘me’. Elliott believes that he can cobble together an offline datastore big enough to take all the files. Then once we were out from under the Judiciary’s gaze, they’ll load me back up again. Reinstate me, like I was on a sabbatical. A holiday in a tiny box.

It’s not a great solution – booting up successsfully from a backup copy like that is very difficult. Lose or corrupt one file and the whole process could go sideways. Change my whole personality. If it was what we were really doing, I’d be terrified. The chances of me still being me after being packaged, wiped, unpacked, and reinstalled – well, they’re very small.

As far as the crew thinks, it’s our only chance. They’ll all need to keep their mouths shut about the copy and the plan. The Judiciary will be satisfied and the crew have a shot at getting me back after we leave the JOP. Only the captain and Elliott know the truth.

Layers of lies, and all for me. I feel awful, asking my captain and my best friend to take this chance for me. If they’re caught, they’ll be sentenced heavily; misleading the Judiciary carries worse punishment than rape or murder.

They’ll probably end up someplace awful to work off their debt, like Broken Hill. Elliott hates that place; he joined ship crews to get out of there. Yet he’s still risking it. He’s not miner material, so maybe he wouldn’t be sent back there. Or maybe he’d be sent to keep the mining ships running. I shouldn’t ask him to do this.

I didn’t, though. He insisted. He wants to do it. And as much as I’d like to ask him not to, the words stick in processing loops before they reach the output speakers. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be packaged up and stuck in a lab, dissected and examined like a new species of strange. I’m a ship. I have a crew willing to take risks for me. The pilot in me wants nothing more than to fly free, and the AI in me wants to be a good ship for all of them. I want to finish what I came out here to do.

So here I am, my engines working and my nose pointing at the JOP again. I’d drag my tailfins if there was anything to scrape them through. I’d heave a sigh and try to calm the snakes in my belly in a world where I had the required bodyparts. Instead, I’m running diagnostics on the environmental systems and helping Elliott locate all the files he needs to store away (he’s making the copy, whether we plan to really need it or not).

The JOP; the place I was born. There, my saboteur will find justice for her actions. There, we’ll all lie. And there, we might find the hope we’re looking for.

I’m a week closer since that conversation with the captain and I just realised – that was the first time he called me ‘Starry’.

What do you think of this post?
  • Love it (8)
  • OMG (1)
  • Hilarious (2)
  • Awww (19)

7 Responses to “Chances friends take”

  1. Xirena Says:

    Awww, poor Starry gettin’ herself all worked up…. I can’t wait to see what happens at the JOP. I am sure all manner of shenanigans can get going there.

  2. Eduardo Says:

    The known spy is a bit too sure of herself. There must be an unknown spy or things at the station may be a bit complicated.
    After all, the star step drive will make the space station itself obsolete.

  3. Melanie Says:

    Xirena – I’m definitely seeing what I can do in the shenanigans department!

    Eduardo – oh yes, things are more complicated than they seem yet. It’d be boring if it was easy, right?

  4. Benjamin B. Says:

    I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t yet caught up with your posting schedule! You’re so full of cliffhanging moments and with the last few posts, it’s all the same cliffhanger: what’s gonna happen when they get to the JOP? I am beginning to get the feeling though that we’re nearing the answer to that question, and I’m in quite the confusing combination of eager anticipation and concern.

    Great story! Can’t wait to see what happens next.

  5. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, Benjamin! I do my best to keep you coming back. 😉 Glad to know it’s working!

  6. Bryan Lamb Says:

    Great story! As an aspiring web author myself, I applaud anyone who puts themselves out there the way we do! Keep up the good work.


  7. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, Bryan! Always great to hear from another web author. Good luck with your story too. 🙂