19 Feb

Defense

Ship's log, 18:23, 19 February 2213
Location: Corsica FTL corridor
Status: Sublight transit

I thought FTL would be exciting. Travelling faster than time itself, crossing huge distances between the ticks of a clock and bending laws of physics that people used to think were immutable.

Yeah, it’s fast. But not in a good way. Not in a fun way.

It’s not flying. It’s the flick of a switch and then hold on and hope it all goes smoothly. Hope we don’t hit anything, because I can’t do anything to prevent it. Trust the inertial dampeners to protect us from the massive forces involved, ship and crew, keeping us safe in its bubble.

It’s dark in FTL. Which makes sense – we’re outrunning the light, gone before we can sense it. Some say that we’re travelling fast enough to smash the light we pass through, which is why we can’t see that, either, though the jury is still out on the reality of that. All I know is: it’s dark and terrifyingly quiet. If I had fingernails, I’d have chewed them off in the few ship-minutes we were skimming towards the Corsica system.

When we came out of the other side, all the stars had shifted. It was disorienting; information slammed into my sensors and none of it was where I’d left it. It took me a couple of seconds to confirm that we were, in fact, where we were supposed to be. It had gone perfectly, exactly as I had calculated and intended, and I felt dirtied by it. It feels like cheating.

We have another three or four jumps before we’re in the Corsica system. In between, we have to wait for the hull to cool and the power cells to recharge back to normal. IDs suck a lot up in FTL; it’s one of the reasons a jump can only be so long before we have to drop back to sublight speeds.

I don’t know why I don’t like it. Maybe it’s the lack of control, though there is plenty that I have to do while we’re in FTL: monitoring all the levels and outputs; making sure the IDs don’t fall out of sync. Maybe it’s the emptiness of it. Or maybe it was the captain’s little smile when he gave the order.

He has been like that for a couple of days now. Ever since Dr Cirilli went to see him in his cabin. I heard her apologise as the door closed behind her. Then she stayed all night. When she finally returned to her own quarters, she had that half-buttoned, finger-combed look, the one that tells me what happened even though my sensors were dark.

Last night, she went to his cabin with a bottle of wine and he greeted her with warmth.

Maybe they stayed up talking all night, my two leaders. It’s possible, right? I don’t think so. Not with the looks they give each other now. They barely spend any time together – Cirilli spends all her time on the mid-deck when she’s not in the captain’s cabin. They brush by each other at mealtimes occasionally, and that’s where I see it. The little glances, the smiles, the why-don’t-we-sit-together. It makes me throw up a little in my mental mouth.

The captain seems lighter since it started. It’s as if he had all of this pent-up energy and now it’s being siphoned off. As if he needed something but didn’t realise what it was. He doesn’t bounce on his toes or grin at nothing like a lovestruck bunny – especially not around the rest of the crew – but sometimes I get the feeling he’s doing it on the inside. A little less blandness in his tone when he’s asking for reports, a spark of brightness in his eyes that wasn’t there before.

He seems happier.

I don’t know why it bothers me so much. I should be pleased for him, right? I’m programmed to make sure that my crew is happy and functioning well. It’s supposed to make me fulfilled.

It’s sand under my heat-reflective paint. It’s space dust in my synapses. It doesn’t make sense, and the worst part is, I know it doesn’t make sense. It’s also none of my business.

 

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering) Hey, Starwalker?

STARWALKER: What?

ELLIOTT: (blinks at a nearby screen, which shows scrolling readouts.) Um. I’m getting weird fluctuations in the power cores that I can’t track down.

SW: (pauses to check on the problem for about half a second.) Technician Wong is hooking something up on mid-deck. He’s having issues with smoothing out the power flow there.

ELLIOTT: (swears under his breath and tosses his digisheet down.)

SW: I’ll see what I can do.

 

Wong is always doing things like that – fiddling around with one of my essential systems without talking to anyone. He almost disconnected the artificial gravity yesterday. He believes he’s the centre of everything technical on this ship and doesn’t seem to realise that I already have a chief engineer. I don’t need – or want – another one.

He was fiddling with things all through my FTL jump this morning. Fleshies can feel the shifts in and out of FTL despite the buffer of intertial dampeners; some are even made sick by it, and they’re quickly deemed unsuitable for space travel. Wong, though, he barely seemed to notice, even though I’d broadcast ship-wide warnings about the jump. I warned the captain that Wong was still working, but he ordered the jump anyway.

Elliott was not so calm about it. After the jump was complete, he stomped down to the environmentals section where Wong was working and shouted at him for 3 minutes and 43 seconds without stopping (not that I was timing him).

 

Recording: 08:52, 19 February 2213

ELLIOTT: (loudly) …and putting the whole ship at risk with your constant fucking around! You shouldn’t be down here! You’re supposed to be doing shit on mid-deck – you need anything down here, you talk to me! Do you understand, you idiotic spannerhead?

WONG: (glaring at Elliott calmly) I understand. You were too busy with the FTL and my work cannot wait. So I came to sort it out myself.

ELLIOTT: I was busy with the FTL because if it fucks up, we might all die! Which is why you’re not supposed to be dicking around in these systems. You could’a killed us!

WONG: With the environmentals?

ELLIOTT: (attempts to take a breath to calm down, twice.) Any minor glitch in FTL could kill us. This ship has just had a major refit. It was our first FTL jump. We’re on shakedown all the way to Corsica, and that means, when you hear Starwalker tell you to prepare for a jump, you put your fucking tools down.

WONG: I do not take orders from you, engineer. My work here would not interfere with a jump, and it supercedes any of your ship-running duties.

ELLIOTT: It doesn’t supercede our fucking safety!

WONG: I really don’t think–

ELLIOTT: No, you don’t!

They went on like that for some time, until finally Elliott cracked. It was a mixture of desperation and professional pride on his part, I think. His hands kept opening and closing, like he was restraining himself from smacking the technician in the face.

 

Recording: 09:01, 19 February 2213

ELLIOTT: How about you just get out of my engineering sector and back to your own deck, huh? I’ll finish up whatever you’ve fucked about with here and everyone will be happy.

WONG: (glares at Elliott, then shakes his head and turns to pick up his tools. He speaks without looking at the engineer.) Very well. What you have to do is–

ELLIOTT: Send me a list and I’ll consider it.

WONG: (stops and sends a look over his shoulder at Elliott. Then he continues to pick up his tools and place them in a small case. He stands and walks away without saying anything further.)

ELLIOTT: (stands with his arms crossed and watches the technician leave, muttering.) Fucking spannerhead.

The work down in environmental is only partly complete; after Wong left him to it, Elliott began swearing and ripping up what the technician had done. He’s determined to do it himself. His coverals are stained and his hair is scraggled and muddy-coloured from too many drunken dye jobs (I get the feeling that they weren’t his idea), and it’s probably best that I don’t say anything about the state of his quarters, but his work is always neat and clean. It’s the only thing he takes any pride in.

So for the rest of the day, he has been redoing all of Ray Wong’s work. Then he found these irregularities in the power circuits while he was on a break – of course, he was looking at reports while he was getting food – and found out that the technician is still messing with his (my) systems.

 

SW: (on the mid-deck) Technician Wong, I’m shutting down the power circuit you’re working on. It’s causing fluctuations in my recharge processes.

RAY WONG: (looking up from the equipment he’s working on and narrowly missing the edge of the casing with his head. He looks around for the source of the voice.) What? No, I need power here, now.

SW: You are interfering with my recharge process. If we don’t recharge, we can’t jump again. Do you want to explain to the captain why we’re delayed even further?

WONG: (frowns.) No. But I need power here. Can’t you just buffer it?

SW: No, you’re hooking yourself into a central circuit. You do realise that, don’t you? Is that what you meant to do?

WONG: (stiffens and his tone becomes chillier.) I know exactly what I’m doing. This has to be on a central circuit. It’s the core of the whole system! Now, I demand that you leave my supply alone.

SW: Why don’t you tell me when you get your glitches smoothed out, and then I’ll hook you up again?

WONG: No, this needs to be–

Power to central mid-deck disconnected.

WONG: What the hell are you doing! I said no!

SW: You will be reconnected as soon as it is safe.

 

Now Elliott is grinning, because I let him listen to the conversation between me and Wong. I knew he’d want to hear Wong being shut down, and I don’t regret a word of it. The technician doesn’t usually speak to me; no matter what he’s doing, he always takes his own readings and never says anything to me unless I specifically address him. It’s as if he keeps forgetting that I exist. And I don’t like how he looks down on Elliott.

 

ELLIOTT: That was awesome, Starry.

SW: Thank you, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: Remind me to never get on your bad side.

SW: Oh, don’t worry, I will.

ELLIOTT: (laughing) Go easy, girl.

 

Wong will probably complain to Cirilli, who’ll take the matter to the captain, who will have to talk to me about it. Elliott and I have until then in peace.

The pieces are just starting to move. I just hope no-one expects me to apologise.

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2 Responses to “Defense”

  1. prince of centraxis Says:

    Good ‘hard’ sci fi with a soft edge; like a stage play set in a single location. Keep it coming!

    See http://centraxis.blogspot.com (if you’re over 18) for a similarly sequential episodic read (or five).

  2. Melanie Says:

    Thanks! Glad to hear you like it. 🙂