10 Mar

Desperate measures

Chief Engineer's log, 19:06, 10 March 2213
Location: Behind the second planet, Corsica system
Status: Positional orbit

The whitecoats want a proper report about what happened with the Step. Been hounding me for two days. Hello? Need to fix the ship first? I should be checking the drive feeds, but instead I’m here, talking to a stupid logger. Captain’s orders. Impatient bastards.

The hardest thing is that I don’t know what to say. I’m not really sure what happened.

I was stuck down in Engineering when they made the Step attempt. Which is fine – I had to be down here in case something happened, and boy, did it. I had a screen up so I could see what was going on up on the Bridge, so it’s not like I was left in the dark (so to speak). Probably got a better view than the SecOffs crammed in up there.

It was all going fine until the portal opened. All of a sudden, the monitors down here lit up. Every system was going crazy, even the lights. They weren’t failing – they were spinning up: fans at full speed, lights so bright I could barely see the readouts, atmospheric controls raising the temperature. Like someone had shot the ship with adrenaline and her heart was racing. I managed to manually shut off the artificial gravity before we were unable to move – or crushed into the floors.

I glanced at the screen showing me the Bridge and saw everyone’s feet leaving the floor. Cirilli was shouting at her staff, demanding to know what was going on. But the captain, he was staring at something I couldn’t see. I’ve never seen him like that before. He’s usually so calm – you could parade naked dancing girls through the ship and he’d kindly ask them to leave – but he looked like someone had just slapped him with a rotten fish. I think that freaked me out more than all the alarms and flashing lights around me.

That was completely overshadowed when she screamed. I called for Starry but she wasn’t answering, so I was struggling to get to the environmental controls when it happened. I don’t know how else to describe it – it sounded like she was screaming. Apparently, they heard it on mid-deck and the Bridge too; it came out of every available speaker on the ship. It was fucking awful and I–

Anyway. Technical report. Yeah.

Next thing I knew, all the screens around me had blanked out and were showing one word: ABORT. Some of the holographic projectors picked it up, and the word was standing out around the whole room. Weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. Until I noticed the drone parked in the corner. Goddamn thing had its hands over its eyes. All four hands.

I managed to pull myself over to one of the control boards and overrode the monitors. They bounced back to normal and by then, the portal was already closed. The Bridge view came up in time for me to see the pilot’s chair spit Levi out like a cat with a pill. He rolled all the way across the room before he managed to grab onto something.

Starry still wasn’t answering, but we were already punching away from the star. I got reports that the Star Stepping equipment was retracting and powering down (Wong has more details on that than I do, but from what I can tell, the drive was aborted under an emergency protocol and shut itself down). I shouted and shouted for the ship’s attention until my throat was sore, but she didn’t hear me. We just kept going, streaking out to a safe distance from the star. After she braked into position behind a planet, the whole ship went dark.

When I say dark, I mean completely dark. Everything shut down except the emergency backup systems, which kept the basic environmentals going (just the air and temperature control). I had to manually reactivate the emergency lighting so that we could see what the hell was where.

I had to reactivate everything. It was as if it had all simply been switched off; I didn’t have any errors or malfunctions reported, no problems at all bringing things back online. Of course, doing this stuff manually takes time, especially when I have to double-check it all to make sure it’s working properly.

From what I can tell, there’s not a scratch on her. A few minor scorches on a couple of boards – from power surges from the portal opening, by the looks of it; we’ll need more buffering in few places – but otherwise she’s in perfect condition. There doesn’t seem to be anything physically – mechanically – wrong with her.

It was a whole day before she spoke to anyone. I checked on the AI status, and like everything else, it looked like it was running fine. After I started each system up, she took on its management without a single glitch. Things that should have been active, were active. But she didn’t talk to us.

Then I was under a panel, adjusting the configuration of the artificial gravity controls, and a drone appeared next to me, holding out my scanner. She sent him, just like she has been doing since we booted her up last month. I thanked her, but she didn’t reply. Since then, she has answered questions about the ship’s systems, but that’s all. Purely business.

I kinda miss her.

I guess I should probably mention that no-one was hurt in all of this. I shut a conduit cover on my finger yesterday, but I don’t think that counts. They said Levi was a bit shaken up, but hell, we all were.

I mean, after what happened the last time we tried a Step, we got off lightly. I– am not supposed to talk about that. Right.

Is the doc doing a report too? I think we all have to after a fuck-up like that. Maybe that’s why he was doing his Probing Questions thing last night, checking on our emotional health. Like I have time for that shit right now.

Anyway. The ship is all up and running again. It’s taken two days to check it all, but I’m confident that we’re in exactly the same shape we were before we tried the Step. Which, considering what happened, isn’t saying much. And Starry herself… I don’t know about her. I can’t explain what happened and I don’t think she can, either.

Cirilli and her team are freaking out. Well, except for Lang Lang, who is mostly bewildered by the whole thing and keeping herself out of it. I don’t know how she can be so calm, but she’s usually buried so deep in star charts and data that she hardly sees anything else. She’s the one who pointed out that we were all okay, in one piece, and able to try again. It was another setback but not a disaster. She’s not wrong, but that doesn’t make her calm acceptance of a near-fatal fuckup any less annoying.

No-one has said it yet, but I think they’re looking at wiping Starry again. As if she’s the problem. It’s ridiculous.

All right, all right. The abort command did come from her. I had to track it down, find the source, and that’s where everything is pointing. It’s the only answer that makes sense. I’ve asked her about it four times, and each time, she says that she detected a danger that was fatal to the crew and was forced to abort the Step. I believe her. AIs can’t lie, but even our strange, emotional ship doesn’t sound like she’s making that up. She thought we were in danger and she protected us. What’s wrong with that?

The captain is talking about having Tripi poke around in her code. He wants the SecOff to check for viruses and stray code modules, anything that might explain Starry’s weirdness. As if I haven’t already done that! From the looks that Cirilli is giving him, he might being doing it so he’s doing something about all this. As if keeping his bedbunny happy is a good enough excuse.

You know, the more I look at the logs, the less it makes sense. Everyone thinks that it was the portal that tripped the abort, but the timing isn’t quite right. It’s close, and if Starry didn’t live in nanoseconds, it’d be closed enough. The abort came after the pilot’s chair was activated, not after the portal was opened.

Fuck. That damned chair has been nothing but trouble. Could it be behind all of this? A stupid immersion chair?

I’ll have to run another set of diagnostics on it. Pull the fucking thing apart if I have to. If I can find something there, maybe they’ll leave Starry alone.

It’s late. No, wait, it’s early. No, it’s late in the wrong day. Shit. I haven’t been up for this long since… since Starry came online. She always turns up with a drink of something and tells me I’ve been working too long. Now there’s not a drone in sight. Guess I have to shift for myself today.

You know what’s weird? She’s acting more like a ship AI now than she has since we booted her up, and it’s freaking me out. You’d think it would be a relief, huh. Instead, it’s why I’m sure there’s something wrong with her.

I guess it’s up to me to fix it. Wish I knew where to damn-well start. Ah, shit.

End of goddamn report.

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8 Responses to “Desperate measures”

  1. t-bill Says:

    All I can say about this and the last chapter is OH. MY. GOODNESS.

    In the last chapter when Starry started freaking out I almost could feel the panic rushing around me. In this chapter, I’m relieved to find out the cooking meat wasn’t the pilot, amused by the ship’s running away and hiding in a safe place while she calms down, and absolutely counting the minutes until the next chapter is posted.

    By the way, if it wasn’t the pilot who got cooked, maybe it was a dust bunny? Or, was Starry the same AI who was around the last time they tried stepping, and she’s associating the smell from that disaster?

  2. t-bill Says:

    Hmmm… I wonder if the pilot chair problems are related. Starry can’t see it and it keeps getting disconnected. I never understood why she can’t see it. Maybe she was the AI on the last star stepping attempt and was so scarred from that experience that she is subconsiously ignoring/sabotaging this attempt?

    Maybe that’s why she’s got emotions, too – some kind of space-time rift that caused her AI to become organic. Oh – and perhaps her mention about the ship being built around her (or was it around the middeck?) stems from the first attempt as well.

    What a wonderful story!

  3. Melanie Says:

    Wow. Thanks, Bill!

    There isn’t really a lot I can say at this point, except that you’re almost there with some of those ideas. I can promise that all your questions will be answered!

  4. David Says:

    Wow. Just wow.

  5. Jen Says:

    *speechless*

  6. IronKnight Says:

    I gotta say that I am enjoying this new story. It’s not my normal cup of tea; which is stories with guns (wars, zombies, etc.), but this story is written in a way that immerses the reader.

    Bill, I gotta say that I am not a fan of speculation in this kind of serial novel. To me speculation causes the reader to lose their immersion in the story. Starwalker happens in “real time” even if it is a weekly or semi-weekly blog.
    It is only my opinion and I am not trying to tell you how to enjoy fiction. Just thought I might offer my point of view.
    Cheers.
    And don’t let being upside down interrupt your creative process Mel.

  7. Melanie Says:

    Hi, IronKnight! I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the story – that’s the kind of feedback every writer loves to hear!

    Don’t worry about the creative process – I stand on my head every now and then to rebalance it.

  8. t-bill Says:

    IronKnight – That certainly is one way to approach a story, and I must say it is easier for me to do that with simple stories or when I can read a story cover to cover. The time between posted Starwalker chapters is time for my imagination to engage with and speculate about the story.

    When I really get into a story I tend to think through the plot lines – try to make connections and figure out where the author is going.

    Starwalker feels like a chapter within a larger story. I see an invitation to speculate in Melanie’s many hints to that larger story. It is interesting to detect the hints and then to figure out why the hints are important to this story. It is also interesting to try to figure out where these people came from, who they are, and what they’ve been up to before we met them in Melanie’s first post.

    Ah well, each to his or her own, eh?