18 Aug

Deep end

Captain's log, 09:20, 18 August 2213
Location: Intersystem between Corvus FTL Corridor and the JOP
Status: Adrift

 

This is the captain, checking in. The ship is still adrift – we’ve been hanging out here in the black for so long that we came dangerously close to a collision. We were getting close to the JOP and he stomped in here, demanding to know if I’d have an answer for him before we ploughed right through the middle of the station. It took me half an hour to convince him that I was waiting for responses from the company to see if they would help us and that it was in his interests to prolong our drifting if he wanted to save his precious AI. He finally relented and allowed a short thruster burn, enough to send us past the JOP rather than directly at it. He won’t return full helm control, though.

Cameron was right when she pointed out that this AI is one of the crew – that is what she feels like. I’m used to AIs that you talk to and forget – they do their processing and never complain, never answer back, never do anything unexpected. They’re an extension of the ship; a management system. They don’t have moods, or do something crazy to save our asses, or switch the artificial gravity off when we’re having sex.

Not that that’s been happening much lately. I’ve been looking for a way to avoid wiping the AI core, and Lorena has been busy assembling her reports to send to her superiors at Is-Tech. Also, she’s annoyed with me for trying to save Starwalker – she probably thinks it’s to do with Danika. It’s not. It’s not all to do with that.

Monaghan was right when he said that I’ve been avoiding this decision. If he hadn’t stopped us, I would have let us get all the way to the JOP, and then let Starwalker be wiped because it’s the expected thing to do. It was easier than making a decision. It was easier than looking at the problem, because looking for an answer means I have to admit that it matters. I’ve been avoiding that for too long.

Danika. She always managed to be unexpected. This isn’t the first time she has pulled me out of a funk, and she’s not even really here any more. I couldn’t do it on my own. I couldn’t find a reason to.

I’ve been drifting for a long time. Two years, three months, sixteen days. And four hours. Since I lost them, I’ve been a shell; making the right moves but not really here. I did whatever was easiest, whatever was expected of me. I haven’t cared about what direction I went in. At first, it was sitting in the house, watching vids and helping the dog get fat. Then it was leaving the house to try to help the dog lose weight, and sitting in a bar. It was easy, and listening to other people was almost like living. Then they started to notice me and tried to talk. It was too uncomfortable, too hard, so I stopped going.

I wanted to get away. From the apartment we’d shared and the things they’d left behind. From the looks of the regulars at the bar and the stupid, tailwagging love of an old dog. And I needed money. It was all so hard.

So I took a suicide mission. Babysit an experimental ship, run it through its space-warping paces, and probably get crushed in an inter-universe burp. The pay’s good but that didn’t matter – no captain would take this job just for the money. I don’t have anything to prove out here and I’m not desperate to attach my name to a revolution in space travel. I’m not in it for the longevity or the glory – I didn’t really care that much about it either way – and that was part of what they were looking for. They knew I wouldn’t compromise the project or be bought by a competitor. I’d do my job, even if it meant taking us into a black hole, because I’ve got nothing worth going back for. We all agreed that it was for the best.

It was supposed to be easy. None of it was supposed to matter, not to me. Then there was Danika, a bored pilot with way too much energy on her hands. She could never imagine what I had to do with my time and was always knocking on my door. Wanting to chat, or looking for a partner in some game (‘it’s better with someone to beat’, she would say). She created her own entertainment.

When she started playing pranks on the crew, I had to call her in and ask her to stop. She just grinned and said she had no idea what I was talking about. I should have been angry with her, but I couldn’t do it. There was something in the slant of her smile when she was full of mischief – irrepressible. She wanted to provoke me, wanted me to smile with her, wanted to see some reaction other than the straight-laced captain. She made me want to be something other than the straight-laced captain. Eventually, I gave in.

She was like a drug I didn’t know I was in withdrawal from. She set things right that I didn’t know were out of kilter. She was bright and crazy, and she made me laugh at the most inappropriate moments. She was wonderful at inappropriate: sex when we’re supposed to be on duty; comments timed to make me choke while I’m eating; acrobatics with the ship when she’s supposed to be doing routine manoeuvres for calibration. I let her do it; I let her in. I lost myself in her and forgot I was a shell. I remembered what it was like to want things again.

I might have been more careful if I’d known I would fall in love with her. Because then she died. The bottom fell out of me and I was hollow, all over again. I fell back into being the captain. Dealing with the job was easier, until she came back.

I think I’ve been fighting the truth since we found out about Danika’s brain-copy and the AI. It was easier to pretend that it wasn’t really her. She was gone but not gone, and I didn’t know how to handle that. We haven’t talked about it. We haven’t talked about any of it: her and me; Lorena. I could say that I didn’t want my emotions for her to get in the way, but that’s not true. If it was, I failed. I can’t be a shell around her; she matters too much to me.

And now here we are. If I can’t find a way to stop it, she’s going to be wiped. As Elliott said, she’ll die for the second time. This time, though, it’ll be our fault. My fault. I’m the captain – it’s all my fault, in the end. Can I bear to let it happen again?

Elliott isn’t the only one who has come to plead her case. Since he set us adrift, word of his reasons has lurched around the decks like an infection. Almost the entire crew has knocked on my door over the past few days.

Maletz came to tell me that it would be a damn shame to lose something so new and interesting. Unique. “Never been anything like her before. The melding of human thought patterns and encoded commands – it’s an exciting opportunity for study.” He’s running out of entertainment vids and games to keep himself occupied with. I don’t think I like the nature of his interest – any more than I like his choice of porn – but he’s not wrong.

Rosie was gruff about her belief that we shouldn’t abandon a crewmember if we could avoid it. She and Danika got on well when the latter wasn’t playing pranks on the SecOffs. “She ain’t just an AI. It’s not right.” Eloquent Rosie is not, but her tone doesn’t leave any doubts about her veracity.

Tyler came with a more balanced opinion that a half-human AI was a great asset, no matter what the project was, and we should keep her around. “She’s good in sticky situations – saved our asses – and it’s only going to get worse for us out here. Especially after Lorena reports the success of the initial tests. I think we’re going to need her.” He’s more shrewd than his eye-widening mascara suggests.

Cameron was more succinct. “I don’t like losing any of the crew in my charge,” she said. She wouldn’t expand on that; she’s too good a SecOff to tell her captain what to do. She’ll do as she’s ordered, even if she disapproves.

Lorena’s team have been quieter. Lang Lang came by to speak to me openly. She’s more honest than most; it doesn’t occur to her to pretend about things. “She’s done so much for us, and it would have taken me months to untangle the charts of the other side of the Step without her,” she said. “The way she sees things is amazing. She extrapolates patterns instinctively – a regular computer AI wouldn’t be able to do that. And she’s always so nice.”

The men are unsettled by this whole business – Ebling and Wong haven’t said anything to me directly, but I overheard them grumbling in the Mess. They don’t like this Danika-AI much – she has a habit of getting in their way – but that doesn’t mean they’re eager to see her wiped. Their project is nothing without the Step, and they don’t know if their project is possible without this strange entity to pilot it. A human pilot hasn’t done it yet. The initial drone runs were all failures; the team believes that a sentient mind is required to navigate between the Step portals. Getting rid of the only pilot to make it work could stop the whole experiment in its tracks. Or kill us all. Probably both.

The only people who haven’t offered their thoughts on the matter are Lorena and Levi. One of them never knew Danika and the other knew her enough to dislike her. Of course, I’ve complicated matters there, too. Danika was what I needed once; Lorena is what I need now she’s not really here any more.

No, I’m wrong – there’s one other who hasn’t talked to me about all this: Starwalker herself. She hasn’t tried to plead her case; not one single request or word out of place since Elliott set her adrift. Her silence is worrying. I don’t know if she’s plotting in her AI core, preparing herself for the wipe and planning escape routes, or just waiting for a decision. If I know Danika, she’ll be waiting; she had faith in people. She never looked for scheming and betrayal in those she trusted; contingencies were left to SecOffs to worry about. Flying forward, grinning into the wind, last-minute turns to avoid a collision: that was Danika.

This isn’t Danika, though. Not entirely. Does that matter? Should it?

I told everyone who talked to me about it the same thing: I’m looking into our options. I’m waiting for word from the company.

This morning, I finally got a reply. The message is laid out in neat, crisp text: protect the project and avoid being seized by the Judiciary (or any other agency). The Star Step drive is our priority, above any and all other concerns. Do whatever it takes. There is an unlimited account at the JOP to get any supplies we need and a local asset to help with the legal aspects. They want us in and out as quickly as possible, then back into the black to continue testing the drive.

On the surface, it sounds great. We have Is-Tech’s full support and encouragement, and enough credits to distract us. Do whatever it takes. They don’t care what we do to our AI, or for her.

What it really means is that I can deliver Tripi as a corpse if I want. Lie to the Judiciary, break the law, turn us all into fugitives and criminals. But it doesn’t say that, so whatever we do is on our own heads if we’re ever caught. They just encouraged us to hang ourselves. As long as they get their results, it’s fine.

What it really means is that we’re on our own. I’m the captain; it’s up to me. Elliott was right: I have to make a decision. I have to do something. No more coasting; no more doing what’s easiest and what’s expected. Danika pulled me out of that funk once and I owe it to her to stay out of there. She deserves better. It’s just like her to throw me into an impossible position and encourage me to stand up and deal with it; she loved the deep end.

All right, then. Let’s deal with it.

 

CAPTAIN: Starry?

STARWALKER: Yes, captain?

CAPT: We need to talk about what’s going to happen when we reach the JOP.

SW: Oh.

CAPT: First, I need you to answer a question for me.

SW: Okay?

CAPT: Do you think you can lie to Elliott?

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5 Responses to “Deep end”

  1. Eduardo Says:

    Just read everything up to this point.
    Its the better sci-fy that I´ve read in a long time.
    Hope you post more soon.

  2. Melanie Says:

    Hi Eduardo! Welcome to the blog. 🙂

    Great to hear that you’re enjoying the story! There’s lots more to come, and a new post coming soon. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Belial666 Says:

    Hehehehe.

    I think the captain has something in mind for Starwalker’s future that the other people did not suggest yet.
    After all, if you are given two lousy options, maybe you should go for option 3.

  4. Melanie Says:

    Absolutely! 😀

  5. Xirena Says:

    O.O what is behind door number 3?