15 May

Debris

Ship's log, 08:02, 28 January 2214
Location: Orbit around Gienah Sol
Status: Partial sublight transit

 

No more crazy FTL jumps for me. There’s a reason why they teach pilots never to do that and I came pretty close to the worst-case scenario. I have an awful list of injuries. It makes me glad that my tactile sensors don’t transmit pain, though the errors of burned-out sensor lines are a warm ache under my skin.

 

Recording: 21:00, 26 January 2214

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering, looking over the damage reports) Fuckin’ hell, Starry. What’d you do to yourself?

STARRY: Just call me Icarus.

ELLIOTT: You’re not kidding.

STARRY: (quieter) Guess I cut that one a bit close.

ELLIOTT: (hesitates and sighs, the edge dropping off his tone) You pulled our asses out of the fire, literally. You seem to have a talent for it.

STARRY: Go me.

ELLIOTT: (shakes his head) Come on, round up the boys. Let’s see where we can start.

That was before the shine came off and he started swearing about it. He hasn’t aimed his ire at me yet but it probably won’t be long before that happens.

I lost a lot of my heat reflective paint to the fires of the corona; it was licked clean off my hull and some of my pressure plating along with it. It’s like someone turned my skin to butter and smoothed it with great, hot hands. Interestingly, for the most part, it didn’t actually cause much structural damage. Some of the joins between hull plates have been melded together, spoiling the seals but replacing them at the same time. There were patches over the damage I gained in fleeing the pirates, but now they’re smoothed into my skin, barely distinguishable. My hull might be minutely thinner in places but it’s structurally sound; I did some pressure and load tests and my integrity is higher now than it was after the last round of repairs.

It’s not all such good news. My extraneous parts suffered most: the tips of my wings are melted stubs and both peripheral thrusters are missing. The edges of my tailfins are worn down and my main external sensor antennae were burned away entirely. On top of all that, we’ll have to check my sublights after I ran them over capacity again.

Thanks to the stop at the JOP, I have spares for most of the missing or damaged parts, but it’s going to take time time to put me back together. The wingtips and thruster mountings will have to be rebuilt, which isn’t a trivial job. I’ve got some spare bulkheads that we can use to shore up any problem spots, and just enough heat-reflective paint left for a fresh coat.

Laurence has offered some of his more technically-capable pirates to help out, but that just makes Elliott look dark and spit out swearwords. He insisted on doing it all himself (with the drones, of course) until Laurence leaned on him to let a couple of the pirates pick up some of the heavy lifting. From Elliott’s shouting and mad hand-waving, I suspect they might have been more trouble than they were worth, but the repairs are progressing.

At this rate, I’m gonna have to start dosing Elliott’s cocoa to make sure he sleeps.

Our priority has been getting the external sensors repaired. I had enough sensor data to maintain position and monitor my immediate surroundings, but long-range was gone completely. With only a few hours’ leeway between our jump and the possibility of pursuit, it was important that we be able to see anyone coming around the star to look for us. (We couldn’t do much about it with so many thrusters needing repair and the sublights disabled to cool down, but everyone felt it was important to see them coming.)

The external sensors and antennae built into my hull are all up and working now. I’ve spent the last few hours testing and calibrating them, and I feel fully connected with the universe again. Lang Lang is scouring the nav data and I’m running spectrum analyses on Gienah Sol, stretching the edges of the data coming at me. I can see the fluctuations in the star’s heart and storm patterns across the corona. It almost seems to make sense.

Now that the sensors are up and running, Laurence is keen to peek around the edge of the star to see what might have become of the battling ships we left behind. I don’t think it’s a good idea – to stop anyone else from detecting me, I’ll have to hug as close to the star’s corona as my paintless hull will allow – but he’s insisting. And okay, I’m curious. It’s been almost a day and a half and we haven’t seen anyone else yet. If Hunt survived, he should have come looking for us by now. Is-Tech should have at least come to look for wreckage.

 

HALF-FACE: (on the Bridge, his feet up on the console in front of him) Are we in position yet?

STARRY: In transit now. Slow going with so much of my propulsion offline.

HALF-FACE: (nods, one foot twitching in the air to an internal beat.)

 

Almost there. As I skim around the Sol, its system unfurls before my sensors. Light, radiation, distant waves distorted by the gravity well burning under my belly. I compensate, account for Gienah Sol’s massive influence and untwist the data until it makes sense. The holotank in the middle of the Bridge shows the curtain of the sun sweeping aside and the building picture of the system.

Lots of debris, but no ships. There was definitely a battle here and some of the pieces are still glowing as radiation bursts continue to eat up some of the softer materials. The debris is drifting, spinning away from the impacts of weapons, like fireworks that explode but never fade or fall down. They just keep bursting and bursting, ripples swelling until they find a shore to spill themselves against.

The battlefield is light-hours away, so I’m seeing the immediate aftermath of a fight that ended some time ago. I can’t see any signs of where the ships might have gone, though.

 

HALF-FACE: (pulls his feet down and leans forward to peer into the holotank) Can you tell what was destroyed?

STARRY: Analysing. Cameron and Rosie might be able to help with this.

HALF-FACE: (frowning, the skin of his brow pulling lopsidedly over the metal eye socket on the right side of his face) They’re not available right now. Your processors should be able to handle this.

 

He’s right, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. I have people on board who are skilled at examining battle debris! But he doesn’t want that. He wants them locked away in their cabins, slaves to the pain-inducing collars around their necks.

Don’t think I’ve forgotten about them. I haven’t. I’m just too damaged to do much about it right now.

All right. Try to assess how much debris is out there, to see if any ships were destroyed. Try to make that mess make sense; like the star’s pulses and waves, it almost does. There’s almost a pattern that makes a picture, but not quite. There are so many shards, from several different ships if their composition is anything to go by, but I don’t think there’s enough there to represent a whole ship.

 

STARRY: It looks like they beat the crap out of each other, but there doesn’t seem to be signs of a ship’s destruction.

HALF-FACE: Are you sure?

STARRY: Still analysing, but I’m pretty sure. Comparing the debris to the size of the ships involved, and accounting for what might have been vaporised, there simply isn’t enough mass out there.

HALF-FACE: So where the hell are they?

STARRY: I don’t know. Maybe– oh god.

HALF-FACE: What?

STARRY: I– (quietly) Bodies. I see bodies.

 

A glimpse of starlight off a visor, dull shapes turning in the black. Pale skin and the black holes of open mouths. Most of them don’t even have suits on. Some of them aren’t right, aren’t whole. Missing an arm, or a leg. A twist of intestines from a severed abdomen. A head spinning off with its tail of hair trailing. It’d be comical if it wasn’t so horrible.

 

HALF-FACE: (solemnly) Can you identify any of them?

 

I don’t want to look that closely. I don’t want to wonder if a voice I talked to over the comms belonged to one of those bodies.

 

HALF-FACE: Ship?

 

Tyler is on the Bountiful. He could be one of those– No. Not my Tyler.

 

HALF-FACE: Starry?

STARRY: (softly) …capturing data now. I don’t have any files to use to identify them. I’ll bring them up on your console.

 

He can look at their dead, frozen faces; I don’t want to. I can’t help but process the data, so I’ll shove it through my systems as quickly as possible. Focus on the shards of breached hull and spilled ordinance. Analyse scorch-marks and dispersal patterns. Look at the big picture and let someone else worry about the details.

I wonder who won. Who lost. Is there any way to tell? Perhaps if I line up the last recorded ship positions before the FTL jump, model the explosion patterns and wind them back to their origins, I can map the battle.

I’ve done this before. Outside the universe, golden spirals through the black trace the paths of star across millennia. I can trace them back to a single explosive point where the universe was born. I can see their histories and their futures laid out before me. This is the same, though I have only a snapshot that is several hours old. Measure composition, angle, speed. Fill in the gaps with physics and geometry, equations that spin through my processors faster than a human could draw breath.

A tale begins to take shape. The fighting shifted off to one side and towards the edge of the system. That’s the vector the Is-Tech ships were coming in on. Did Hunt and his pirates go on the offensive?

I can’t tell if the bodies are wearing uniforms or not. Can’t tell who belongs to which side.

If I narrow the sensor sweeps, I can pick up the ordinance that never hit its target, disabled by standard countermeasures. Then I widen out to the bursts that made it through the defenses. Strike and retaliation. If I wind back the debris sprays to their origins, I can calculate the timing of the explosions that loosened them.

I’ll bring the story of the battle up in my holotank, slide in the ghosts of the Bountiful and the Mercy as they advanced, of the Davey Jones and the Kracken Unbound as they slid sideways and back, and the Mandible as it covered my jump vector. The pirates pushed hard and fired first, probably as soon as I jumped away. Like dogs loosed from the leash. The Is-Tech ships tried to get around them but were driven back. They traded blows like practised boxers, punching at well-flattened noses and cauliflour ears. They spat people like teeth and blinked blood out of their eyes. In a ring without ropes, they drifted further and further towards the edge of the system as they blocked and pounded at each other. Further and further away from Gienah Sol and the ship that huddled, naked and broken, on the other side.

 

HALF-FACE: (rising from his seat and walking slowly towards the edge of the holotank in the centre of the Bridge. Behind him, the console scrolls through the faces of the dead.) How are you doing that?

(The holotank is showing the tale of the battle, explosions ripping up the space between four ships. The fifth skitters around the edges, a terrier snapping at the heels of tigers. The image flickers around holes in the data.)

STARRY: Extrapolations from the debris. There’s more pattern to it than you might think.

HALF-FACE: (to himself) Thought you said you didn’t know how to do it. (He watches for a moment, then frowns. Only four ships are displayed in the simluation.) Wait, where did the Mandible go?

STARRY: I don’t know; the signs of it stop there. The second planet is blocking the debris paths.

 

The battle passed right behind that second planet; the side of it turned away from me is probably peppered with debris impacts. Was the Mandible destroyed? If it had exploded, there’d be signs of it leaking out from around the planet; it couldn’t have sucked up all the evidence. What if the scout ship crashed? No way I can tell that from here.

No sign of Tyler yet. What if he’s in the debris I can’t see?

 

HALF-FACE: Are there any signs of ships in the system now?

STARRY: No, but this data is several hours old. Where did they go?

HALF-FACE: (shakes his head slowly, his eyes roving over the battle simulation) Hunt doesn’t like to lose. He’ll be chasing them down.

STARRY: So what does that mean for us?

HALF-FACE: Nothing. Our orders are the same. When will we be ready to Step?

STARRY: I have a lot of repairs to make. Not for a while.

HALF-FACE: We need to get out of here as soon as possible.

 

For once, I agree with the pirate; whoever returns to this system first, I don’t want them to find me here. Pirates will put me right back where I started, and Is-Tech might prompt the pirates on board me to do something stupid. Right now, my only option is to flee through the star. Just as soon as I’m whole enough.

In the meantime, I’ll just limp back behind the star and block off my view of the battlefield. If I look at it for too long, I might see something familiar. Someone familiar.

Tyler, I’m sorry: I should never have let you go. And I’m sorry that it took me this long to start worrying about you. You’re the only reason that I hope Hunt is still in one piece.

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13 Responses to “Debris”

  1. Blik Says:

    “A stop at the JOP” sounds too catchy, doesn’t fit the mood of the events. Perhaps “stop” could be replaced? Unless “Jay Oh Pee” is an initialism instead of an acronym, but there’s no way of us knowing that.

    Other than that comment, I can’t say anything about this chapter. Nothing about how impressed I am with Starry’s simulations; I just…can’t. How horrified she must be.

  2. mjkj Says:

    Wow…

    *comforts Starry*

    I just hope she forwards and displays all the data also in the captain’s cabin…

    mjkj

  3. brightlilim Says:

    “JOP” is an initialism; “Jump off Point”, I believe, from earlier posts.

    Poor Starry! She’s definitely very affected by her experiences and the battle, and it’s showing. Her personality, her all-too-human emotions, her horror at the outcome of the battle, are so strong here that even Half-Face is calling her “Starry” rather than just “Ship”. He’s empathising with her strongly enough that he’s thinking of her as a person, not a ship.

    It’s almost the Stockholm Syndrome in reverse, with the captors sympathising/empathising with their prisoners, and that’s good for Starry and her crew!

  4. Melanie Says:

    Hey guys, sorry for the delay in replying.

    Blik – that’s true! I tend to read it as ‘J.O.P.’, because it’s an initialism (for Jumping Off Platform. It was the first space station set up to act as a waypoint between Earth and the colonies, back when they were first being established. Brightlilim was very close!).

    I see what you mean, though. I’ll have to change that wording – switch ‘stop’ for ‘stay’, perhaps.

    I hadn’t originally planned for the simulations to happen, but the more I thought about what the battlefield would be like after a space fight, the more it made sense. I think physics is starting to hurt my brain. πŸ˜‰

    Brightlilim – very true about Starry’s reactions. She’s also not answering to ‘ship’ any more; she wouldn’t reply until Half-Face called her by name (partly because she was upset and tends to forget). I think he’s picking up bad habits from the rest of the crew.

    mjkj – I’m sure she will! Just as soon as she’s calmed down and processed it a bit.

    In other news, I have a lovely chest infection happening here, and probably won’t get a post up today. I’ll sort it out as soon as I’m capable of thinking straight. Might be another weekend post. πŸ™

    Off I go to curl up on the couch.

  5. mjkj Says:

    *comforts*

    get well soon, and do not let winter get the best of you…

    mjkj

  6. Melanie Says:

    Thanks mjkj! I will try. πŸ™‚

  7. brightlilim Says:

    Winter cold…just feels strange saying that in May, heading into our summer. Hope you feel better soon, and don’t worry about us; we’ll still be here!

  8. mjkj Says:

    You are welcome πŸ™‚

    and yeah, indeed we still will be here… πŸ˜€

    mjkj

  9. Targetdrone Says:

    yep, definitely will be here :p

    that said, get well soon, chest infection sounds nasty πŸ™

  10. Targetdrone Says:

    aww… no weekend update means youre still in bad condition? take your time getting rid of that infecion, we can wait for the updates, priority 1 is you getting well again. *sends a get-well hug from sunny austria* πŸ˜‰

  11. Melanie Says:

    Aw, hugs for me! πŸ™‚ Yay! I’ll take all I can get of those from here in stormy Australia.

    Sorry I didn’t manage to get the post up this weekend, everyone! I am on the mend, and there is a post just about ready. It will go up tomorrow!

    With luck, I’ll catch up on myself soon. Thanks for all your patience and well-wishes – you guys are the best. πŸ™‚

  12. mjkj Says:

    Ah, nice πŸ™‚

    *waits for update*

    And since you seem to need them *sends many big hugs from Germany*

    mjkj

  13. Melanie Says:

    Yay hugs! Yay international hugs! Arms around the world.:D