12 May

Clucking hell

Ship's log, 19:02, 12 May 2213
Location: Grisette system
Status: Wide orbit around Grisette sol


It has been a week full of secrets and ulterior motives. I feel like I’m seeing shadows everywhere; I’m nervous whenever someone puts a hand into a hatch, as if they might be placing something in there or taking something they shouldn’t. Of course, then nothing untoward happens and I wind up feeling foolish.

Cameron was right, though: the saboteur has nothing to gain by attacking now. When we’re back in ‘normal space’ (we are in normal space, but what they mean is ‘when we’ve got back to our proper time’), then we have to worry. That’s when we’ll get hit again. It’s not a question of ‘if’ any more: it’s a question of ‘how’.

I’m still the prime target. Cameron and the captain want me to sit here like a chicken that can’t see the axe. I should do that, I know it’s the best course. Let them try, and then we’ll know which one of them it is. As much as I’d love to just lock both Wong and Tripi up, we need them too much to put them out of action on a maybe.

I can’t be the chicken. I can’t risk it. What if I hurt someone before my crew stop me? What if the saboteur uses me to hold everyone to ransom? What if I’m killed – erased? What if they don’t have any choice but to shut me down and hit the reset button? I don’t want to hurt anyone and I don’t want to die. If it was just me, I’d do it, but it’s not. It’s everyone. I’m responsible for all of them.

So I haven’t been idly sitting here while the chess pieces move around me. Cameron gave me tools that might help to protect my central processes, but I don’t trust anything standard. If they’re standard, then everyone knows about them and there are already ways to circumvent them. Hidden behind regular processes, I’ve been playing with other things instead. The firewalls that protected the brain-copy took Tripi days to get around and I was letting her do it. I want to construct something like that – with conscious efforts to maintain its integrity, they’ll never get in.

Is this paranoia? Is playing with dynamic firewall code the AI equivalent of fingernail chewing? Can all of these convoluted plans I’m forming really fool a technological expert? Just what kind of bait can I dangle that will fool them so they won’t see all of this?

While I run around in circles in my own head, Lang Lang has been working hard with her own puzzle. Using her archive of star charts, she’s putting together a key to navigating the timeline in the world Outside.

She has resolved all the discrepancies in the data. Like galaxial spin: the slow turning of the galaxies accounts for the twists and curves in the bright gold lines in the Outside. The stars don’t just move outwards from the centre of the galaxy; they also move around it, creating dizzying spirals. On top of that, the galaxies are moving in relation to each other as well. The three dots that failed to stand in a straight line up now sit happily on a curve predicted by her carefully-constructed math.

We might be able to get out of here soon, if my crew can stop arguing long enough to pick a destination. Some of them want to go back to Earth and see what our ancestors are up to. According to Lang Lang, we are approximately four and a half thousand years before our time. The Latins are just arriving in Europe: great stone circles are being erected in what will one day be Britain; the Minoans are starting to build palaces on Crete; and Egypt is beginning its long decline. Humanity should be spread over most of the globe by now. Hunting and farming and indulging in bloody, hand-fought wars. The kind of living where you look the other guy in the eye, whether you’re marrying or killing him. In our time, too much of that is done from a distance.

Opinion wavers all over the temporal map. Some of the crew want to go further back. Others want to jump forward to see what is yet to happen. Others just want to get home.


Recording: 12:43, 10 May

EBLING: We could rewrite the history books. Answer all those questions that no-one’s ever been able to find the truth about.

TYLER: Like what? Who killed who, who screwed who? Who cares?

EBLING: You don’t care about truth. Just looking at you shows that.

CIRILLI: No need to get snippy.

TYLER: (ignoring Ebling) History doesn’t make much of a difference now, right? Little to the left, little to the right – but what difference does it make? Though I wouldn’t mind visiting certain people in history. (He grins.) See if the stories are true about them.

LEVI: You want to use the ability to travel in time to have sex?

TYLER: Sure, why not? I’ve read some stories about ancient history. Ancient Greece, for example. Wouldn’t mind getting in some of their man sandwiches.

WONG: (staring) The scary part is, I think you’re serious.

TYLER: (winks and smoothes a lock of hair back.)

EBLING: (shaking his head) We could do something worthwhile. Like go back and witness the evolution of our species.

TRIPI: And then Tyler can screw them, and give them all something they can’t pronounce.

TYLER: Ecstasy?

TRIPI: I was thinking ‘syphilis’.

MALETZ: You know, that’s not unlikely.

EVERYONE: (looks at the doctor.)

MALETZ: Giving whoever we meet a disease. Not necessarily one that requires intimacy.

ROSIE: Typical. So Tyler’s dick wipes out our whole species.


EBLING: And then the universe implodes because of the paradox.


EBLING: You know, that whole killing yourself before you’re born thing. It– you know, I’m not explaining paradoxes to you. Look it up.

TRIPI: What about the future? I’d much rather see that.

WONG: Wow, yes. Imagine what we’d find four and half thousand years in the future.

MALETZ: Where we’d have the opposite problem.

WONG: Huh?

CAMERON: He means that there would be new diseases around that we don’t have defenses against.

EBLING: On the plus side, no paradox that way.

TRIPI: Just we’d be dead. Yeah, great plan.

TYLER: We don’t know that’s what would happen.

CAMERON: That’s only one of many factors we might be facing.

CIRILLI: And it’s out of the bounds of this experiment. We’ve already established that we can travel in time; we don’t need to go any further to prove that.

EBLING: One trip could be called a fluke. You know what those traditionalists are like. We have to prove repeatability.

CIRILLI: The purpose of this test was to see if we could Step at all. Exploring the bounds of time travel is quite a different endeavour. As Chief Cameron says, there are many factors to consider, and the simple answer is that we haven’t yet.

TRIPI: So you just want to forget about it and go home?

CIRILLI: (holding up a finger) Go home, yes. Make our reports, complete the mission. But not forget about it. As I said: it’s a different endeavour.

EBLING: But one you’re planning to explore?

CIRILLI: (smiling) Well, this project is hardly finished without properly exploring the ramifications of Stepping.

WONG: Well, sign me up! I’ll explore the future anytime.

TRIPI: Just think about the tech we could bring back…

TYLER: And the people we could meet.

CAMERON: (to Cirilli) You’d think that if people were able to travel in time because of this drive, we’d have met some already.

CIRILLI: I don’t think it’s that simple.

EBLING: Oh, here we go. Multiple dimension theory? Malleable time streams, is it?

CIRILLI: There are many theories about time travel. We will have the chance to explore them, and we risk the entire universe by doing so.

ROSIE: Like ripping open portals in it doesn’t?

CIRILLI: Stepping isn’t a danger to the fabric of the universe.

ROSIE: (muttering) Still seems like it’s dangerous to me.

CIRILLI: (ignoring Rosie) The company won’t approve the drive for production until we have explored all of its ramifications.

MALETZ : Just think what would happen if everyone got their hands on this.

EVERYONE: (silent for a moment.)

It’s a sobering topic. They moved onto lighter things after that – speculation about what they might find in the past and future. It might have been more explosive if Elliott had been there, but he was down in Engineering, working away on the Beholder. I had Waldo take him some lunch instead.

Tripi came out yesterday dressed in ancient-style robes – draped to show plenty of leg, of course – in honour of the Earth that is spinning so many light-years away from us, right now, at this moment. It only sparked more debate about the whole subject. Cirilli and the captain seem quite happy to let the crew talk themselves in circles; they haven’t stated a definite plan yet.

It’s hard to tell, but Cirilli seems to be pushing for us to head home to report in. I think she wants to brag about her success, and I don’t blame her. Her Star Step drive works. We’re figuring the kinks out of the navigation, but it works. That alone is worth headlines.

I wonder if I’ll be a secret after that. I wonder if Is-Tech really will tell the world about this discovery, or if they’ll wait until they know all of the contingencies. We could be testing and exploring this for years yet.

I could live with that! I’d have a purpose for all that time. I don’t know what will happen to me once they decide the drive has been tested enough. Will I continue to test new models of the drive? Be decommissioned? Converted to test something else? It’s not something I’ve thought about before: all that matters is the mission and fulfilling my purpose as the ship that bears this burden.

It not worth worrying about now. There are so many hurdles to get past before any of that is an issue: first and foremost, there’s the saboteur and getting back to report in at all. I’m quietly spinning myself a paranoid, code-laden cocoon, and Cameron and Elliott are working out a web to lay down for our quarry. But this is no rabbit – this is a fox, with teeth and claws, and we have to pretend to be chickens. The fox is already planning to break into our barn again and has probably got the groundwork laid out. Keep clucking, everyone.

We’re almost there. Our next Step is being plotted as we speak, but I’m not ready. I’m a time machine, but I don’t have enough time. How stupid is that?

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One Response to “Clucking hell”

  1. David Says: