12 Mar

Cold comfort

Captain's log, 20:43, 12 March 2213
Location: Corsica system
Status: Medium orbit around Corsica sol

Captain John Warwick reporting. It has been four days since the abortive attempt at making a Star Step and we’re still no closer to tracking down the source of the problem. Dr Cirilli and her team are working around the clock, examining their equipment. Monaghan has been over every system on the ship.

If I was a superstitious man, I’d say that this experiment was cursed. There are forces aligned against it, doing their best to stop us from passing through that portal. Perhaps God protests our attempts to see outside the world he created; perhaps the spirits rebel. I’d prefer it if there was a mechanical reason, but it’s just not appearing.

At least no-one was hurt this time. Our new pilot was almost knocked out by the feedback through the chair, but he’s fine now. It could have been worse. Last time, it was worse.

We’re not supposed to talk about that. The decision was made after we made it back to the JOP that we weren’t going to mention what happened before then. Refit everything, wipe the AI, and start over. It wasn’t a failure; it was a reason to make a fresh start.

It sounded like the best course of action at the time. Dr Maletz said that it was essential for crew morale, especially when going into another Step. We all needed to put it behind us. I agreed. I didn’t want to be reminded of what happened either, but I still had to captain this ship and its experiment.

I was glad of those weeks at the JOP. It helped to give us all distance from what happened. But when it came down to it, it didn’t make any difference. I think we were all back there, back to that day and the first time we tried a Step. Especially when she screamed. God, the sound of it – it cut right through me.

And then there was the symbol on the screens. Only a couple of the crewmembers saw it, so I know I didn’t imagine it, but none of them knew what it was. I did. I’ve seen it before: the stylised falcon with its wings lifted, all coiled power about to take off. How the hell the AI knew about it, I don’t know.

Just thinking about it makes me unsettled. This AI does too many things that it shouldn’t. Monaghan defends her like she’s a friend – or a child. He’s too immature to be fatherly, but he can pull off the big brother routine easily enough. Strange for an only child to react that way.

He swears he didn’t do anything to make her this way. He’s always doing things to the ship that he shouldn’t – ‘improving’ the shower’s pre-soaping mechanism and foaming out a bathroom, and other assorted stunts – and he does a good innocent act. Thing is, I don’t think he’s lying this time. As annoying as he is, he’d never endanger the ship, and he seems as bewildered by the AI’s actions as everyone else.

Right now, he has the pilot’s chair in pieces on the Bridge floor. One of the drones is helping him, laying the components out in neat rows around him. He has done nothing but growl at the rest of the crew since he started; he wants to find something wrong there. I can’t say that I mind seeing that particular piece of equipment being taken apart.

Lorena wants me to wipe the AI again. Start over with a fresh one. She’s furious about all this, about technical issues getting in the way of her great work.

Her anger is understandable. This is her life’s work; I don’t blame her for being upset. I’ve seen the communications from Feras, the orders from the upper echelons at Is-Tech that would like us to pull a miracle cure for space travel out of this mess. I know the pressure she’s under to get this done and done right. I know there have been threats, though she won’t tell me the details.

I am just not sure that wiping the AI is the right way to go. We would be foolish to do it now – getting back to the JOP under manual piloting was painful enough the first time. We didn’t have a choice that time and none of us are eager to repeat it. We can’t reset it all here – it’s dangerous to boot up an AI out here in the black because we’d have to take all the systems off-line, including the environmentals. I doubt that we can convince the AI to pilot us to her own destruction, which leaves us without many viable options.

‘Convince the AI’. Listen to me. It’s supposed to take orders, do as it’s told. It’s the ship, not a member of the crew; it shouldn’t need handling like one of them.

I wish I knew it was the problem. But what if it’s not? We could have another long journey for nothing.

Lou Tripi is investigating it further. She’s an expert in technological security and anomalies; if there’s something wrong with the AI on a code level, she should be able to find it. It’s not impossible that someone might have infected the system with a virus; with a project of this kind of commercial importance, sabotage is to be expected. It’s putting Monaghan’s nose out of joint, but at this point we have to investigate every possibility, even the unlikely ones.

I gave the order to move us out from behind the second planet yesterday. I was expecting it to be difficult, but the ship complied without comment. No questions about the orbit required or why we were going back; just an ‘aye aye, captain’ and the engines engaged. Funny how you get used to a chatty ship. Funny how strange it is when she stops asking odd questions. She did exactly as she was asked, putting us into a perfect orbit just inside the first planet.

The Star Step drive is charging again now. It would go quicker if we were on a closer orbit, but I see no need to risk that right now. We just need to wait for the technicians to finish their work and provide us with some answers.

That would be nice: answers. Like how the ship knew about the tattoo.

Lorena should be here shortly. I don’t have anything to give her except that ‘we’re working on it’. I guess we’ll both have to seek other kinds of comfort again. It’s becoming a habit with us, but not one I mind.

Here she is now. Captain out.

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2 Responses to “Cold comfort”

  1. Daniel Says:

    1. He has nothing but growl at the rest of the crew since he started; -> He has *done* nothing… 🙂

    2. Does having this part, where the guy… soliliquises? about the AI wiping, detract from the effect of the story? Just a dramatic consideration. Readers are smart (hopefully), but do like to be surprised! The power of ‘silence as a literary device’ can be quite effective – what you chose to ommit (from the page but not the story) can be even more powerful than what you keep on the page. Just something to consider with this story as a whole.

  2. Melanie Says:

    1. Fixed! Thank you.

    2. This section is intended to fill in some gaps – to explain the captain’s strange reaction during the aborted Step and some of the reasons behind why no-one talks about the first AI. I also wanted to give a look at the crews’ reactions from another perspective. This is a taste of what Starwalker is up against, when trying to justify her continuing existence.
    Some of this information will become important (or, its purpose clearer) later on. I do hope that it doesn’t detract from any upcoming surprises, though!
    Finding the right balance of what to say and what to withhold is not easy. I’ve had other readers say they want more answers and less questions! All I can promise is that it will all make sense in the end, and hopefully I give you the right amount on the way to get you there.