15 Jun

Check

Ship's log, 11:26, 6 February 2214
Location: Home system
Status: Sublight transit to Terra Sol

 

It’s time to head off again. I’m burning my way towards Terra Sol, the golden sun that spawned the human race. The Step drive is warming up in my core, just a few tests away from full calibration. Almost time to tear open the world and make my exit, stage centre.

Time. The notion of travelling across it does strange things to people. It has captured human imagination ever since they discovered regret and the impact of possibilities. The captain isn’t worried by it; to him, it’s just another detail in the headache that is managing this experimental ship. Lieutenance Laurence is as divided as his face, wavering between disbelieve and awe, and fear and anger. I’ve heard him talk about going back to Hunt with the news and demanding more money in exchange for this ‘time machine’. Pirate to the core, that one. To Lang Lang, time is just another parameter in her equations, another facet to a challenge she’s relishing. Cirilli wasn’t phased by it the first time around, but it seems to have her knickers in a knot this time. I have no idea why; she won’t say.

I think only the captain and Elliott suspect that I made this slip in time on purpose; the rest of those on board are happy to class it as another accident. While that is a little insulting, I’ll accept it because it suits my purposes for now. It has given me the time I needed.

The pieces are in place. Countermeasures are scattered around the ship, secreted away by scurrying drones in the quiet hours when most of my humans are asleep. I have the protocols that will kick them off written and lined up, awaiting the right moment to trip into action. All six of my drones are spread around the ship at key locations: my heavy boys, Big Ass and Wide Load, are crouching in separate cargo bays; my mid-sized maintainers, Waldo and Casper, are whirring around the main decks, so ubiquitous that no-one notices them; and my tiny duct-crawlers, Bit and Byte, are ticking around in my environmental systems.

My crew have been sifting into their places over the past twenty hours. The first to move was Cameron.

 

Recording: 15:30, 5 February 2214
Location: Chief of Security's quarters

 STARRY: (standing in front of the chief SecOff, frowning) You sure this is the way you want to do it?

CAMERON: (nods) I am. Did Maletz give you what I asked for?

STARRY: (gestures towards the vent near the ceiling) Yes.

(The vent shivers, then swings open. Metal glints inside the shadow of the duct, and a small, spider-like drone skitters into view. Its front pair of arms hold out a vial. Cameron steps over and cups a hand under the drone. The vial tilts horizontal and drops into her palm.)

CAMERON: (gives the ship’s avatar a curious look.)

STARRY: (folds her arms over her chest and nods.)

CAMERON: (flips the top off the vial and upends it into her mouth. She grimaces as she swallows. She shakes her head as if to rid herself of the flavour, then tosses the vial back towards the vent.)

BYTE: (catches the vial in one hand, extends the other to snag the vent cover, and backs into the duct. The vent cover closes, clicking softly into place.)

STARRY: (ignores the drone, too busy watching the SecOff.)

CAMERON: (blinks and goes to sit down on the side of her bed) This shouldn’t take long.

STARRY: I know.

CAMERON: (goes pale and grips the edge of the bed. Sweat breaks out on her forehead. She squeezes her eyes shut, then gasps as her throat closes, shutting off her ability to breathe. She falls back, choking.)

STARRY: (watches with growing distress, her arms unfolding, fingers fidgeting) Safety protocols have picked it up. They’re coming, Cameron. They’re coming.

CAMERON: (struggles on the bed, clutching at the covers.)

STARRY: (drops her head and disappears. Behind her, the door snaps open and three pirates run in with Maletz. One of them has an anti-grav stretcher.)

Maletz gave her a couple of shots to counteract the convulsions and admitted her to Med Bay. His diagnosis was a neurological virus, possibly picked up off one of the pirates. She has been confined to Med Bay until he can track down the culprit disease and treat her for it. Right now, she’s dozing, her face given a sickly colour by the glow of the blue isolation curtain around her bed.

It’s not as bad as it looks. Maletz is doing a good job of keeping her stable and bewildering the pirates with medical jargon until they go away. I still don’t like to see her that way, but she has to stay sick so she can stay in Med Bay.

Rosie was next. We didn’t want to use the same ruse in case the pirates got suspicious or tried to lock down crew movement from fear of an outbreak. She didn’t want a subtle approach anyway; I impressed upon her that believability was key and, well.

 

Recording: 08:47, 6 February 2214
Location: Rosie Brasco's quarters

STARRY: So you know what to do?

ROSIE: (grins) Yup. No problem, ma’am.

STARRY: You’re not going to ham it up, are you?

ROSIE: Me? Nah. (She holds up a hand when the avatar looks like it’s about to speak.) Don’t worry! How long until they come to check on me?

STARRY: (hesitates, calculating guard positions and velocities) About four minutes.

ROSIE: Plenty of time.

 

Recording: 08:51, 6 February 2214
Location: Rosie Brasco's quarters

STARRY: (voice only) Three, two…

ROSIE: (walks out of her personal hygiene unit, stark naked, and crosses the room towards the drawers near the bed. The only thing she’s wearing is her captive collar. Freshly-washed hair sticks out from her head in all directions.)

(She’s halfway across the room when the door to her quarters opens and a pirate guard walks in. He stops dead when he sees her.)

ROSIE: (spins around to face him) Do you MIND?

GUARD: (eyes widening, he struggles to lift his gaze to her face) Um… not really.

ROSIE: (throwing her hands up in the air) Oh, this is fun for you, is it? I can’t even have some privacy now? What, you struggle to get girls, so you gotta peep on ’em like some creepy little scumbag?

GUARD: (frowning) Hey, now that’s not what–

ROSIE: (stalking over to him) It’s exactly what! I’ve seen you, looking when you think I’m not gonna notice. What is this – stepping it up a notch? Boss give you permission to play with the prisoners?

GUARD: (backing up) That ain’t true! Stop, don’t come any closer.

ROSIE: Or you’ll what?

GUARD: (fumbling at his forearm for the collar controls) Back off! I mean it! (He’s at least a couple of inches shorter than Rosie, and not as broad across the shoulders, even in his armour.)

ROSIE: Goddamn pirates, you’re all the same! (She cocks an arm back and drives a fist at his face.)

(The guard sees the punch coming and ducks, diving out under her arm. Rosie’s fist slams into the wall with a crack, hard enough to leave a dent in the bulkhead and a smear of blood. She grunts and spins around to face the pirate again, dropping into an offensive stance. The guard punches at his holographic forearm controls, backing away from her again.)

ROSIE: You cowardly little fu– (The lights on her collar ping on and she goes rigid. Her teeth clamp together and she shudders, then drops to the floor. The tension in her jaw strangles a scream.)

GUARD: (eyes her, his finger on the button, and speaks over pirate comms) Lieutenant? Need some backup. (He considers the blood on her hand.) And maybe the medic.

When the backup arrived, they let up on the collar-infused punishment, and then put her out because she wouldn’t stop bitching and trying to get up. The doctor reported that her hand was probably broken and he needed to reknit it. Another anti-grav stretcher was fetched and she was carted off to Med Bay; Waldo followed later with her clothes and gear.

Maletz was halfway through fixing her hand up when she came around and I don’t think she’s stopped swearing or wriggling since. When the doctor offered to help her get dressed, she offered to break her other hand on his face.

On the plus side, the pirates are convinced.

That was three hours ago. Two and a half hours after that, the Lieutenant moved my Step-critical people to their places: Captain, Lang Lang and Cirilli on the Bridge; Wong and Ebling on mid-deck.

Last one up is Elliott, and his scheme came into play four minutes and thirty-five seconds ago.

 

Recording: 11:25, 6 February 2214
Location: Med Bay

MALETZ: (over internal comms) It’s an emergency, dammit! (He pokes at the interface in front of him. It flashes warnings and errors at him, and bleeps off-key whenever he touches a control.)

ELLIOTT: (from Engineering) Is someone dying?

MALETZ: (huffing) No, but if I don’t get this viral analysis done, I can’t fix Cameron up. Y’know, the sick woman? She’s getting worse! Get your ass up here, Monaghan.

ELLIOTT: All right, all right; try not to sprain your yourself. (Banging noises filter over the comms.) I’ll get my tools and head up.

MALETZ: (muttering) About time.

Elliott is on his way now; he’ll be in Med Bay in about twenty seconds.

I wanted to get the captain in there too, but he refused. Too obvious, he said; I was pushing it with three. Stick to the essentials. They didn’t need him in there and he has to be on the Bridge for the Step.

What if I need him before then? What if something happens before they can get to him? He’s my captain; he’s essential to me.

I probably didn’t have to get Elliott in there; he’s not essential for the first part of this. But it’s Elliott, and I’ll need him if anything goes wrong. My SecOffs might not be able to get to both him and the captain in time. No, Elliott needs to be there.

And he is! He’s there, grumbling over the medical diagnostic unit. Dr Maletz has stepped inside the isolation curtain and is giving Cameron a shot. Rosie has her hand in the epidermal unit, reapplying layers of skin to her knuckles. The clock is running.

 

Filaments extending.

 

I’m ready. As ready as I’ll ever be for what I’m about to do.

I think the dustbunnies are scampering around in my ducts. If I had sensors down in there, I’d feel claws tickling along my insides. I prickle all over under the wash of Terra Sol’s radiation. I have sensors, not nerves, and yet I’m nervous.

I’m an AI. I have my programming set up; I just need to follow the plan. Worrying is for humans. Right?

 

Filaments charging: 40%

 

My Step course is plotted out, as much as it can be. I’ve managed to convince Laurence that I have to go back to the Gienah system to ‘undo’ this time slip. I have to reset my navigation charts and come at the Home system fresh to make sure I hit the right time. It’s not true but I don’t want to be anywhere near this rendezvous when I make my move. Luckily, I found that if I spin out complex equations and sound really sure about it all, he believes me.

 

Filaments charging: 65%

 

I feel bad about deceiving Lang Lang. I could have helped her with the problem star charts and cut three days of work down to one. But the delay was what I wanted. I lied to her about why we have to go back to Gienah, and I haven’t told her that I plan to Step out of time there, too. It’s not time for her to know the truth, not yet.

A good ship wouldn’t keep things from her crew. A good ship wouldn’t lie and cheat and have her drones construct countermeasures in dark corners while everyone is asleep. Have I slipped so far? The name on my hull is Carapace and that’s what I have to be: a shell to protect what lies within. For now. For a little more time.

 

Filaments charging: 98%

 

A good ship protects her crew and her mission. That’s what I’m doing.

Five seconds.

I’m a good ship. I’m in perfect working order. I’m ready.

They’re not gonna know what hit them.

 

Portal opening.
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8 Responses to “Check”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow, great 🙂

    …and yay, Bit and Byte made the cut 😀 *happy* *hugs*

    …and also yay for Starry saving the day – erm, the year? decade? century? *lol*

    mjkj

    .

    PS: FIlaments charging: 40% => should be Filaments (small i)

  2. Blik Says:

    I, for one, cannot WAIT to see what Starry has up her chutes for the pirates. This whole thing has raised some interesting possibilities.

    I didn’t even remember Bit and Byte being around. So instead of being pleased, it’s more like I’m fascinated. She needs duct dusters, of course (…ducksters?), but it had never occurred to me that they were there. As you say, the systems ‘bots become more or less invisible. Which is undoubtedly Starry’s intention.

    Will the Pirate King even know that Starry left and returned? If they’re returning to the exact same spot and time, would they notice?

    How exact is this Step system, anyway? Can Starry step from an east-west orbit around one star to a north-south orbit or west-east orbit around another? Can she choose to emerge in opposition to any inhabited planets?

  3. brightlilim Says:

    Nice use of the delay for planning; and good going on pulling the wool over Lang Lang’s eyes – the one person that might have accidentally given the game away if she had spotted what had happened.

    Can’t wait to see when Starry’s turning up at Gienah, and what the outcome of that is!

    @Blik I don’t think she’s planning to go back to the same time as she left.

  4. mjkj Says:

    No she is not going to the time she left – she said so:
    [quote=Starry]I lied to her about why we have to go back to Gienah, and I haven’t told her that I plan to Step out of time there, too. It’s not time for her to know the truth, not yet.[/quote]

    And Melanie had said it would be six drones Starry has and had asked for names to name them – I think it was in the forum

    mjkj

  5. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – Yes, I used the names you suggested! 😀 I knew I’d get to them eventually. Thanks for spotting the typo – I will correct.

    Blik – the smallest of her drones haven’t really come up previously. They were mentioned way back in the beginning, but they haven’t had much to do worth mentioning until now. I probably need to go back and edit in some more references, so they’re not completely forgotten! Poor boys.

    The exactness of the Step system goes from ‘not very’ to ‘okay’. On the other side of the Step portal is all of space and time – Starry has to filter out a lot of data to try to get enough to navigate by. That’s why a human brain is necessary; a machine simply couldn’t cope with that kind of filtering. Figuring out relational coordinates is very difficult, given that each star occupies every position it occupies in its life.

    Using accurate star charts, she can get a fairly precise time, and possibly calculate where the star’s planets are in relation to it, given enough time. So, in theory, she could pop out at a specific point on the star’s edge. In practice, it’s hard and they generally don’t want to spend any more time outside the universe than is absolutely necessary.

    brightlilim – glad you liked! This post originally started off with summaries of all the prep, but then it was more fun to put in the sensor log recordings. Poor Lang Lang – I think Starry’s going to be apologising to her for a while after all this.

    brightlilim/mjkj – correct, she isn’t planning to return to the same time in Gienah. She’ll stay out of time so she only has to deal with one headache at a time. 🙂

  6. mjkj Says:

    Yeah, quite wise she is 🙂

    …and one headache at a time is enough — though how does headache translate to an AI? Main processor overclocking? 😀

    mjkj

    .
    PS: I really love your post at Lilyfields … are your other novels also available to read?

  7. Melanie Says:

    Thanks mjkj! Glad you enjoyed it.

    As I mentioned over there, my other two novels aren’t up anywhere yet. The first one is burn-worthy, but the second is still in progress. It needs a thorough editing before it’s suitable for human consumption, and it’s the next task on my list after the Apocalypse Blog e-books are all finished and published.

    Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when it’s available! 🙂

  8. mjkj Says:

    Yay, thank you 🙂 *hugs*