03 Nov

Distraction

Chief Engineer's log, 08:45, 4 March 2214
Location: Alpha Apodis system, Apus constellation
Status: Sublight transit towards close orbit around Alpha Apodis Sol
Log location: Engineering

 

…can’t he just do it himself? I’m not the only one capable of– oh, the log’s on. Right, right.

So, the captain has asked me what’s going on with Starry. Like I know! Doesn’t that new doctor have six degrees in brainology or something? He’s more qualified to figure out what’s going on in her head than I am; I just make sure all her bits work. Which would be easier to do if I wasn’t being interrupted all the time.

Then again, I don’t think I trust that Argyle guy with Starry’s brain. He’s supposed to be some kind of genius, but I don’t like his eyes. Creepy, the way he watches us.

Yeah, maybe it’s better the captain came to me. At least it means I can put my feet up in the immersion chair for a little while. Plus, we don’t know that a technical problem isn’t causing Starry’s irregularity. It could just be dust in her logic circuits, and I could blow those off for her.

That sounds wrong now I’ve said it out loud.

Anyway! Logger, link up to this chair’s neural connection and log all input. I might have to show the captain proof that his ship isn’t nuts.

 

Link established
Logging neural connection

 

Of course she’s not nuts. Sure, she gets upset sometimes, and I guess that might technically be ‘crazy’ for an AI, but that’s just how Starry is. At least she can’t get hormonal. Can she? No, there’s no mechanical equivalent. Even she’s not that weird.

All right, immersion chair. Stop pinching my ass and do your thing.

 

Immersion activated
Connecting...
Transferring protocols...
Neural connection active

 

(A world of sleek streets and round-edged buildings rises up around Elliott when he closes his eyes. His avatar is not unlike his physical body, from the scruffy hair down to the stained shipsuit. The jacket half of the shipsuit flops around his hips as he gets up from the couch, testing his footing tentatively. The couch dissolves behind him and he scratches at his chest through his grubby t-shirt, looking around.

He is standing in the middle of a junction. Pathways streak away from him in five directions, lit by the multi-coloured steams of information running under it. There’s no traffic on the streets of Starry’s mind-city; everything happens under the surface. Data flows back and forth, too fast to see anything but flashes that meld into the flow.

The buildings swell smoothly up out of the ‘ground’, a part of it rather than built upon it. They are as colour-coded as the datastreams, indicating their purpose. Red for weapons; yellow for propulsion systems. Blue for security measures, usually in the firewall fences flickering around the busy hub-buildings. Threads of green environmental data are a solid, pulsing net underneath everything.

Elliott picks a direction and starts strolling. As he nears each building, the movement within it becomes clearer: the shifting of walls and floors; the spinning of the processing hub at its core; the stream of data falling away from it towards the filestores. The archives are like a great library in the basement of the city-mind.)

ELLIOTT: (gazing around as he walks) Starry?

(There’s no answer.)

ELLIOTT: Hello?

RECORDING: (distantly) Hey, big sis…

(The sound drifts away as if stolen by a wind, though the ‘air’ here is perfectly still.

Underfoot, the smooth, shiny surface of the mind-city gives way abruptly to a spill of crunchy grass. It softens and glistens as Elliott’s boots tramp across it, and he leaves tracks in the bent blades behind him. The surface swells into the gentle roll of a hill, and just beyond the curve, he spots a figure.

The form is familiar – short, choppy hair that looks like someone caught a starscape in it, and a casual shipsuit left open at the throat – but the pose is not. She sits with her knees drawn up to her chest, with her arms wrapped around them and her head bowed. She’s as taut as a drawn bowstring as if she expects something to snap.

Elliott strolls towards her, tugging at the belt that holds his shipsuit up, as if making sure he’s decent. He opens his mouth again as he approaches, about to call out to her, but as he comes around far enough to see her face, he realises that her eyes are closed. His mouth closes and his steps slow. He frowns, uncertain.)

ELLIOTT: (clears his throat, staring at her.)

STARRY: (lifts her head and looks around. She registers surprise, blinking rapidly a few times as she processes his presence.) Uh. Sorry, I didn’t… I was distracted.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, no shit.

STARRY: You need something? Is everything okay?

ELLIOTT: (wrinkles his nose) That’s kinda my question. Just wanted to check on… things here. Been a few blips.

STARRY: (drops her gaze away from him) Yeah. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.

ELLIOTT: Okay. (He hesitates, looking around, then flops down to sit beside her.) So, what’s going on?

STARRY: (pokes at the grass with a fingertip, silent for long enough that Elliott gives her a worried glance. She sighs and hugs her knees again.) There’s something you should hear.

ELLIOTT: …okay. I’m listening.

STARRY: (frees a hand and gestures in the air.)

(Data spills in and out of visibility, trickling like sparks as the file is located and a command given. The recording starts up again, clearer this time, as if it’s playing just for them. The ship’s avatar closes her eyes as she listens to it.)

 

Recording: 05:12, 13 January 2213

(The voice is male, warm with a smile.)

Hey, big sis. Hope this letter doesn’t take too long to find you. I couldn’t find you on any of the regular registries, so it’ll have to go to a central hub and wait for you to find it. More hush-hush work, I guess?

It’s been hard to track you for a while, and I have been trying when I can. Lots of secret-squirrel stuff? Must be been doing that test-pilot work you used to talk about. You always did like to be on the ragged edge, pushing the boundaries. Just try not to fall off the other side, okay? Though it’s just like you to go where I can’t follow – you’ve been doing that since we were little.

(The voice sobers.) I guess I’ve been the one guilty of that lately. Look, I know you’re probably pissed with me, but I had to disappear. It was just– I can’t explain it right now. Not like this.

I heard you were looking for me. Got your messages. I’m sorry I couldn’t reply then, let you know I was okay. And I am! I’m okay. You don’t have to worry. I ain’t the kid you had to look out for, not any more. I’m really fine.

Truth is, I didn’t expect to be gone so long. Thought I’d be back before you’d have time to raise hell, trying to find me. Things just… didn’t go how I’d hoped they would.

(The smile returns to the voice.) Just how many people did you piss off looking for me? Bumped into Old Man Garnett a couple of years ago and he nearly took my head off. Did you really steal his favourite aerobatics drone and fly it so hard that its fins came back all twisted? According to him, he had to rebuild it from the nuts up. Yeah, I can really see how they’d love you as a test pilot!

(A noise sounds in the background: the hiss of a door opening and air pressure shifting to compensate.)

Sorry sis, I gotta go. I know this probably doesn’t give you the answers you’ve been looking for, but I wanted you to know that I’m doing fine. I wanna see you but it’s not easy for me to get away. I’ll try to find you soon. I miss my big sis. (A grin is audible in his voice.) You can be a cow, but you’re my cow.

I hope you’re all right. And I’m sorry. I’m really sorry for disappearing like I did. I love you, okay?

Shit. This is why I couldn’t say goodbye to you. Goodbyes suck. We’ll see each other again soon.

Yeah. So, see ya, sis. See ya soon.

(Silence falls on the grassy hillock. The data attached to the recording hovers in the air around the ship’s avatar, noting the date and time it was created and identifying the voice as ‘David Devon’. The avatar sighs and opens her eyes, staring at the ground in front of her toes rather than at the information.)

ELLIOTT: What was that?

STARRY: (looks around as if searching for ‘that’, but all there is to find is the data in the air. She waves it away with one hand and the words dissolve into golden light-motes that drift to soak into the grass.) A letter. It was… it was Danika’s letter.

ELLIOTT: Danika’s? So that guy, he’s… (He waves a hand vaguely while his brain interprets the meaning to her simple statement.) Didn’t even know she had a brother.

STARRY: (resting her chin on her knees) He disappeared six years ago. She tried to find him, but… (She shakes her head without lifting it.)

ELLIOT: (considers for a moment, then leans back on his hands) She never mentioned it. They were close?

STARRY: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: Well, good news he ain’t dead, then.

STARRY: (softly) Yeah.

ELLIOTT: (eyes her sideways) So when did you start reading her mail?

STARRY: (swallows and ducks her head guiltily) It was only this one. (Her shoulders slump.) I just had to know.

ELLIOTT: Is this what you’ve been doing since we got to this system?

STARRY: No. (She glances at Elliott sideways.) Since I jettisoned the cargo pod.

ELLIOTT: Twenty minutes ago? How many times have you listened to it?

STARRY: Thirty-nine.

ELLIOTT: Fuck, Starry. Why?

STARRY: (looks down, her head drooping again) I miss him.

ELLIOTT: You don’t even know him.

STARRY: (rubs her forehead) I know, I know. But I do! I remember him. When he was growing up, and fighting, and playing, and… I remember how it felt when he was missing. And I–

ELLIOTT: (frowns) What?

STARRY: (quietly) I love him.

ELLIOTT: (loses his frown in favour of staring at her) You… what?

STARRY: He’s her family! And it… it gets so tangled up in me. Sometimes… sometimes it’s hard to know where she finished and where I picked up. I can’t carry her memories and not love the people she loved. (She uncurls her arms and looks at her hands.) Like you, and, and the captain, and the crew.

ELLIOTT: (shifting his weight uncomfortably) So, uh… is this why you’ve been so distracted? Our course back to the star has been a bit… erratic.

STARRY: (sighs and drops her hands) I know, I’m sorry. It’s just… very confusing. (She glances over at Elliott.) I’ve got the course under control now. I won’t waver again.

ELLIOTT: (nods, looking uncomfortable) Okay.

 

Fuck. I’m no good at this stuff – I fix mechanicals and I like it that way. What am I supposed to tell her?

Off in the distance, on the edge of the grassy bit, I can see a purple cluster of protocols and controls. I think that’s part of the nav core, sending data to the propulsion sector. Close enough for her to keep an eye on, and it looks like she has it in hand.

That was what the captain wanted me to do, right? Make sure her erratic behaviour was dealt with. Well, she’s dealt with it. So she says.

Maybe I’ll just check out that nav control. It looks like she might have set it up to run automatically, to get us into close orbit so we can Step out of here.

 

(Elliott starts to get up and Starry’s gaze follows him. He stops abruptly, frowning.)

Dammit. She’s waiting for something. Didn’t we just establish that it’s all sorted now? Problem’s solved. Then why does she look so mopey?

I’m an engineer, not a teddy-bear. What the hell am I supposed to do about it?

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9 Responses to “Distraction”

  1. Targetdrone Says:

    nope, he’s definitely not good at this 😛

    but he is more teddy-bear than he gives himself credit for 😉

    aww hell, if he is too dense to do it…. *gives starry a comforting hug*

  2. Retsof Says:

    I? … wuh? … how?…

    Okay, I understand Male Obliviousness (being subject to it myself), but how can he not pick up on this…? I think Starry’s going to have a line for hugs this time (myself included).

    Oh, by the way, that did sound wrong *snerk*.

  3. mjkj Says:

    Awww…

    Poor Starry *hugs*

    mjkj

  4. Melanie Says:

    You guys are the best. 😀

    This is part 1 of 2, btw – there is another Elliott-log coming up next that continues on from this one. The whole episode just wound up too long for one post!

    Also, inspired by you guys, I added another bit to the next post today. Can’t wait to see what you think. 😀

  5. mjkj Says:

    *looking forward to the next update* 😀

  6. eduardo Says:

    Even I can see that she needs a hug so that she can cry out, but it is difficult to see these thigs when dealing with women sometimes.
    In the past I found that sometimes in a very similar situation a hug will actually make her unconfortable.
    They do not come with an instruction manual, this is part of what makes them so interesting.

  7. Targetdrone Says:

    Too long? There is no such thing as a “too long” with a high quality story such as this…. It has to last us addicts for a week after all ;p

  8. mjkj Says:

    seconded 😀

  9. Melanie Says:

    Aww, you guys are so cute. I do like to keep the posts under 2,500 words, but this one ended up at 4,500!

    Second part is up now! 😀 Enjoy!