15 Aug

Comfort

Ship's log, 12:14, 5 April 2214
Location: Outer rim, Home system
Status: Sublight transit

 

After one last orbit to scan and make sure there were no hiccups in Terra Sol, I am under way again. We’re heading out to the FTL corridor away from this system, preparing to put light years between us and Earth.

There’s still not much word about what’s going on down on the broken planet behind us. Ships are flooding into the system, answering the call for help that went out a few days ago. All shapes and sizes, including a hefty population of Judiciary vehicles. Only a few are heading in the same direction as I am, out of the system, and from what I can tell from the comms chatter, they’re full of refugees.

I’d like to help more. I’d like to go and pick up enough people to fill my cargo bays. But after what happened at Seville, after the desperate people that caused all this, I’m glad that I can’t. We have solid reasons for why we can’t get involved and it’s a relief. I don’t know if I could bring myself to open my airlocks on that planet again.

No, instead I’m slinking out of the system. I’m pretending that I have my quota of refugees and scurrying away before someone thinks to check. I’m joining the transit lanes to avoid raising any more suspicion. It’s the only way to get to the FTL corridor without going days out of our way. Besides, the Judiciary has its hands full with everything on Earth; the last thing they’re worrying about right now is little old me.

FTL corridor. I haven’t gone the slow way in such a long time. The last time I used my FTL drive was for a near-suicidal leap towards a star, trying to escape from space pirates. Which just sounds ridiculous now that I’ve put it into words, but it’s true.

It feels like a move backwards. I was built to Step, built to travel between stars in just a few heartbeats. Now I’m going to undo everything I’ve done in my short life.

It’s enough to give a ship a complex.

Luckily, I have a captain who knows how to set things straight. He’s determined to make this right, even if it means turning against those who made me. Breaking away from the company was one thing; actually attacking them is something different. There’ll be no going back from this, no way for anyone to heal the breach. There’ll just be whoever is left standing at the end.

The crew is reacting in such different ways to our new decision. They don’t talk much but I watch them and they betray themselves.

Yesterday, I caught Lang Lang praying. Words whispered to herself as she pored over the star charts to plot our course. Asking for guidance. Asking for assurance that we weren’t going astray. Asking for understanding. Interestingly, she didn’t ask for forgiveness. She believes what we’re doing it right, even if it might not be popular.

Ebling is grumpier than ever. He mutters a lot, nothing worth recording; usually, he’s just insulting the intelligence of others. He’s building up his walls, establishing layers of protection for when the shit hits the fan and it all comes tumbling down. He doesn’t think we can do this. But he’s complicit in everything we’ve done so far, so there’s no backing out for him. He knows that. And he is helping, if grudgingly. Still, I’m keeping my sensors pricked in his direction, just in case.

On the surface, Elliott is in a similar mood, but he’s so different. He grumbles and throws things across Engineering, but I haven’t seen him move with this much energy in a while. He has been poring through my schematics, filling Engineering with holographic projections of my innards, and planning how to fit more weapons into me.

Cameron spent a few hours with him yesterday, exchanging ideas and making suggestions. She knows what we’re likely to be able to get our hands on, even some of the specs, and together they’ve been expanding the bright green areas of the schematics where the new stuff will go.

This morning, Elliott was going through the plans in more detail, making a list of the refitting he’ll need to do on my existing structure, when he turned around to find all six of my drones standing behind him.

 

Recording: 09:27, 5 April 2214
Log location: Engineering

ELLIOTT: (stops mid-turn and stares at the lined-up drones. He has a finger hovering over the holographic notepad projected from his left forearm, and a zoomed-in schematic of a wing fills the air behind him.)

(The drones are in a neat row, patiently looking at him. Even the two tiniest ones are there, crouching on a counter beside Waldo. Byte lifts a hand and wiggles fingers at Elliott in a cheerful greeting.)

ELLIOTT: (without taking his eyes off the drones) Uhh, Starry? Did you send the boys down here?

STARRY: (materialising beside him, facing her drones and looking nonplussed) Nope, wasn’t me. They came here on their own.

ELLIOTT: (darting a glance sideways at the avatar) Just how autonomous are they?

STARRY: (shrugs) They do what I need them to. We have a good arrangement. Why, how autonomous are they supposed to be?

ELLIOTT: Not this much. What do they want?

STARRY: I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them?

ELLIOTT: (sighs and looks to the drones again) Well?

(Casper, standing in the middle of the row, looks right and then left. In perfect sync, all six of them lift one of their right arms and flip out their welding torches. Blue flames roar softly, from large to small.)

ELLIOTT: (shifting his weight back with surprise) What the hell is that supposed to mean?

STARRY: (tilts her head to the side as she looks at them.)

BYTE: (flips his torch away again and skitters down the counter to the end under the schematic hologram. He jumps and points at a particular part of the projection: a green-marked area where new missiles will go.)

STARRY: (grins suddenly.)

ELLIOTT: (pointing at the row of drones) Are they asking what I think they’re asking?

STARRY: Yeah, I think so. They don’t want to be left out.

ELLIOTT: Weapons. You guys want me to put weapons on you.

(In neat synchronisation, all the drones except Byte switch off their torches and lower their hands to a resting position, as if satisfied with the engineer’s response.)

ELLIOTT: I didn’t say I was going to!

(The two biggest drones look at each other. Waldo’s shoulders slump, and Casper folds one pair of arms. Bit kicks a tool across the counter, while Byte hops onto the floor and goes to tug on Elliott’s pants leg.)

STARRY: They want to help, Elliott. I know the Chief has asked you to put additional weapons lockers in, for the crew. (She gestures to the metal boys.) They want to be armed too.

ELLIOTT: (eyeing the drones) Well… look, it’s not up to me.

STARRY: I know. But they trust you. They know you can make it work.

ELLIOTT: (sighing) Okay. I’ll talk to the Chief.

DRONES: (perk up.)

ELLIOTT: Now, will you get outa here? I’m busy, y’know.

(Big Ass and Wide Load salute crisply and head out immediately. Waldo and Casper wave a hand affirmatively, while Bit straightens up the tool he kicked. Byte hugs Elliott’s ankle.)

ELLIOTT: Augh, get off, dammit.

BYTE: (lets go, hands dropping to his sides.)

STARRY: (winks at the tiniest drone as Elliott turns away, then disappears.)

BYTE: (blinks and scurries off after the engineer.)

Poor Byte, he’s got so attached to Elliott. I feel like I should mind, but I don’t. It’s not like I’ve lost anything. Besides, I’m attached to Elliott, too.

The drones aren’t the only ones making the most of their attachments. The notion of an impending war saw some interesting behaviour last night.

Rosie and Swann had a drinking match and wound up wrestling on the training room floor. Then they weren’t wrestling any more and I switched on the privacy locks before they made my circuits blush. Swann was limping this morning but Rosie looked like the cat who got the cream; whatever their competition was, she won. Still, Swann seems far from sour about it. Cameron hasn’t said anything about it yet, though I’m sure she’s aware. She doesn’t miss much.

The Lieutenant was moved into quarters a few days ago and the doctor has been in there a lot. At first, I thought he was just spending time with his patient, tending to those tricky cybernetics that aren’t quite working right yet. But last night wasn’t the first one that Dr Valdimir (I really have to stop calling him ‘Dr Socks’) spent in the Lieutenant’s room. And now that I scan the sensor logs, they spent a lot of time inside a privacy curtain when they were in Med Bay, too.

And then… there’s the captain. He knocked on Cirilli’s door last night and she greeted him with a sombre expression and arms around his neck. He didn’t come out again until this morning.

It’s a weird reversal. Back when I was just a baby, it was Cirilli who went to the captain’s room and stayed the night. I didn’t know it at the time, but he needed her. He was struggling with everything I was and am, losing Danika and gaining me, and she helped him through that. Now, she’s struggling with the truths we know and the decisions we’ve made, and he’s comforting her.

I didn’t react well when they got together the first time. To begin with, I had no idea why it bothered me so much, and I didn’t like it even when I remembered Danika’s feelings for him. But they need each other; I see that now. They’re good for each other. And it doesn’t hurt so much any more.

All we have in this journey is each other and I shouldn’t interfere; I know that. So I’ll make sure their gravity is steady and the atmosphere is warm and calm. I’ll lock down their doors and privacy. Because I know they need this, if we’re going to make it.

And we will make it. We’re on our way, going to do all we need to, to make this right.

Right now, what I need to do is make sure my core mission parameters are in line with our intentions, which means removing all my internal ties to the company that built me. Cameron asked me to check into it earlier, and I’m still wading through my protocols to chase them down. They put in so many references and caveats! And they’re all linked, so that if I remove one, it reinstates itself while I’m dealing with the next one.

I think I’m going to need some help with this.

 

Location: Engineering

ELLIOTT: (sits at a counter with a sandwich in one hand. His free hand is poking at another schematic hologram; this time, it’s the plans of the tiny duct-sized drones. Byte is helpfully standing in the exact same position as the schematic’s pose, arms held out in precise positions, so that the engineer can compare real to holographic.)

STARRY: (materialises behind Elliott and clears her throat softly.)

ELLIOTT: (jumps and half-turns to see who it is) Oh, Starry. Something wrong?

BYTE: (rolls his eyes around to look at the avatar but doesn’t move.)

STARRY: (smiles at Elliott) No, but I do need some help with something. When you’re done with lunch.

ELLIOTT: (around a mouthful of sandwich) Sure, what?

STARRY: Feel up to a walk inside my systems?

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7 Responses to “Comfort”

  1. targetdrone Says:

    Will be interesting to see how many and what type of weapons they will be able to cram into starrys hull… I hope they remember to keep the loadout energyweapon heavy… Missiles and ballistics need ammo.. Which can be hard to come by, at least for military grade stuff. Also ammo takes space, which will be in short supply on a scout-turned-assault cruiser. Also the need for ammo would make logistics more of a bitch, as you are tied to a certain type of ammo that might not be available everywhere, whereas reactorfuel should be available even in the most backwater spaceports…

  2. Francisco Says:

    They are going to have to be discrete when they start getting stuff. If people realise what they’re doing they may work out what Starwalker’s crew might be planning next.

    Who knows, maybe some of those automated locks in Starry’s memory have already reported to Is-Tech?

  3. mjkj Says:

    *lol*

    I like the drones 😀 they want to be included 🙂

    Well, seems like Starry really needs help — I hope Elliott can undo the programming…

    As for the weapons: I hope they can build in enough ports with automatic doors since I believe Starry should be step-ready for dealing with the solar currents of the other stars and weapons mounted on the outside might burn up or get defective so close to the star…

    mjkj

  4. Retsof Says:

    My first thought in reaction to the last sentence: “and many hugs will be had.”

  5. anonymus Says:

    hi
    thanks for the chapter
    why did noone *hug* stary?

  6. anonymus Says:

    … to late damn

  7. Francisco Says:

    I can’t believe I typed “discrete” when I meant “discreet”. I even looked up the word in an online dictionary to make sure that I spelt it correctly.

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