15 Mar

Disturbing discoveries

Ship's log, 20:49, 15 March 2213
Location: Corsica system
Status: Medium orbit around Corsica sol

This is the Starwalker reporting. All systems optimal. Crew and passengers are accounted for and undamaged. Experimental drive powered down; power cores charging.

Chief Engineer investigating the full-immersion pilot’s chair. No malfunctions detected. Drone assisting.

Security Officer Tripi investigating AI core.

Currently orbiting the sun in the Corsica system. Sensors do not detect any other activity in the system.

No-one here but us chickens.

Is that how a ship’s log is supposed to go? I’m not good at this ship-only crap – bland statements that don’t say any of the important stuff. Maybe the captain is supposed to log the other kind of report (and from the ones I’ve peeked on, he does). So do other members of the crew. So what do they need from me?

I bet Cirilli’s reports are drier and more to the point – like dry toast and tissuepaper. I haven’t tried to look into hers. I’m not sure what I’d find. I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t like it.

They think I don’t know that she has been calling for me to be wiped. They’re trying to keep it quiet, continue their investigations. As the captain put it, we have until the Star Stepper’s power cores recharge, which takes longer from this distance. I wonder if he asked for this orbit on purpose; I think he knew that rushing this would meet resistance from the crew – most of them like me.

I wish I knew how to help them find what they’re looking for. All I know is that it was too dangerous to continue; I had to abort the attempt. No matter how hard I try, I can’t track down the source of that assumption. I can’t tell them that it was a feeling; AIs don’t have feelings. The only thing I’m sure about is that we would have died otherwise.

Elliott is upset with me. He’s tense and snappish, burying himself in his work. He doesn’t talk to me much any more, but I’m not really speaking to him either right now. It’s all so difficult. I have to figure this out; I don’t want to let him down. I want to work for him.

He has finished putting the pilot’s chair back together again. He found some inefficiencies and has fixed them, but no problems. All he has left to do there is hook the chair up to my systems again and run diagnostics.

I don’t know what he’ll do after that. There isn’t anything left for him to check. The only thing left to pull apart and rebuild is me.

He’ll have to fight Tripi for that job. She’s elbow-deep in my code like a surgeon without a compass, cutting and poking and prodding. She pushes things back into place when she moves onto a new patch of crystallised synapses, but I still feel bruised from her hands. I’ve had to stop her from shutting down essential routines twice now, and she’s homing in on the gravity controls at the moment. Maybe I should let her mess that up so she stops being so cavalier in there.

Her ocular implants give her the code in three dimensions, surrounding her head with the centre of my brain. It’s a weird sensation for both of us, though she’s far more at home with it than I am. She chimes as she works, decorative chain gloves chinking as her fingers flick at the outputs. Rip, rip.

She doesn’t say a word to me, not a single peep as she peers into a binary mind. A couple of times, I’ve heard her hum softly to herself, as if she’s her own radar. Her eyes narrow and she homes in on a particular command stream, pouring over it as if she just caught a dustbunny in her hands. Then, abruptly, she pulls back again and continues on with her work in another area. It’s disconcerting.

I think she found something out of place. I think she’s discovering things about me that no-one else knows, not even me, and she’s keeping it to herself. I want to know. I want her to tell me what’s going on, but I can’t ask. What am I supposed to say? If I admit that there’s something wrong with me, they’ll shut me down and wipe me.

I don’t want that. I’m a good ship; I can be a good ship. How can I prove that to them? How can I make them trust me? How do I make Cirilli not hate me any more?

Maybe those command streams will tell me what she found. I know what she spent time looking at. I’ll deconstruct them and see what I find, and maybe it’s not as bad as I think it is.

Maybe it’s just a virus. Something she can build a patch for, scour out of my system. I don’t feel weird and nothing seems out of place, but if I’ve had it since I was born, would I even know the difference? I suppose it’s possible that she could make me better without deleting everything I am.

That’s strange. The areas that Tripi was focussing in on are data streams, carrying information out from my data cores to be processed. But they don’t always access the data-views I usually call on; occasionally, they link right down into the data core, into the archives. To… hey, there’s a firewall down in there. How come I didn’t know there was a firewall in my data core? And, why is it there? And what’s–

 

ELLIOTT: (on the Bridge) Starry! Hey, STARRY!

STARWALKER: No need to shout, Elliott. My sensors are functioning perfectly.

ELLIOTT: (leaning out from under the pilot’s chair, frowning) Yeah, I know, I did the diagnostics a few days ago. With anal thoroughness. Did you just call me Elliott?

SW: I did. What did you shout at me for?

ELLIOTT: You haven’t done that in– what? Oh! Right. (He grins.) Wake the captain. I found something.

SW: He’s not asleep.

ELLIOTT: Just get him! Here! I found a thing!

SW: He’s coming! What did you find?

ELLIOTT: I told you! A thing. (He waggles something small in his hand.) A thing which might just explain what happened.

SW: What is it?

ELLIOTT: What, I gotta explain this twice? Wait until the captain gets here.

SW: But–

ELLIOTT: Just hold onto your hull-bolts, Starry girl.

(A door swishes open and Captain Warwick hurries in.)

CAPTAIN: What happened? What’s going on?

ELLIOTT: (grinning) I found a thing.

CAPT: A… what?

ELLIOTT: (excitedly) A thing! A thing that shouldn’t have been there. (He ploughs on before the captain can interrupt.) See, I was reconnecting the immersion feeds and I compared the length of the cables, and I found something weird.

CAPT: Why were you comparing the cables?

ELLIOTT: I– it’s not important. Thing is, one of them was too long. I thought maybe I’d put in an extra power buffer at the JOP – though I was pretty sure I hadn’t – so I took the cable ends apart to check it out, but no. It wasn’t a buffer. Each cable had the correct number of buffers. It was this. A thing.

(He holds out his hand; in the middle of his palm there is a small, circular device, metallic in colouring and shaped to fit into a cable end. It’s theย size of his thumbnail and almost a centimetre thick.)

CAPT: (leaning in to get a closer look) Do you have any idea what it is?

ELLIOTT: Not yet. But, from cursory inspection, it looks like a power modulator. It definitely wasn’t there when I installed the first chair. I checked all the cables myself. It was on the opposite end of the cable to the buffers, but I should have spotted it anyway, though it was camouflaged pretty well into the cable’s sheath and I only found it because the cables were the wrong length.

CAPT: (holding up a hand) Whoa there. Take a breath, Monaghan. A power modulator?

ELLIOTT: Yes. I need to do some tests on it, but it looks like it… (his excitement evaporates) …was there to interfere with the feeds to the chair.

CAPT: (standing straight and stiff) Like, for example, to cause a surge?

ELLIOTT: Maybe.

CAPT: I understand. Have the… thing scanned for evidence and then I want a full analysis of it.

ELLIOTT: I– of course, captain. Right away.

CAPT: (turns to leave.)

ELLIOTT: Uh, captain?

CAPT: (pauses and looks at the engineer expectantly.)

ELLIOTT: This is good news, right? I mean, Starry, she’s not crazy. Or… glitching. Or. Look, it wasn’t her fault.

CAPT: We don’t know that yet.

ELLIOTT: Sure we do! If this is what I think it is, she saved Levi’s life. Hell, probably all of us. She said it was something dangerous!

CAPT: We don’t know that! (He pauses to get hold of himself, then continues quietly.) Just inform me as soon as you have completed your analysis.

ELLIOTT: (staring at the captain’s back as he walks away) Aye aye, captain.

(The door swishes closed behind the captain.)

SW: (quietly) I’m sending all the drones to you.

ELLIOTT: Okay, thanks, Starry.

 

The drones have abandoned their tasks and are heading for the Bridge now. Ebling and Tyler are shouting at me, but I’m ignoring them; this is more important.

I might have been right. I must have detected the modulator doing something. Some buried protocol picked it up and told me to make it stop. I was so busy with everything, with the Step and the open portal and the universe bared right in front of me… I didn’t even realise.

I might have done the right thing. I might have saved us.

But I still have data streams going to a firewall I can’t explain. I still think that maybe there’s something wrong with me. Right now, SecOff Lou Tripi is chewing on a perfectly painted nail while she stares at my code and I wonder if she found something.

I’m a good ship. Even when I don’t know much, I know that. I just wish it was enough.

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9 Responses to “Disturbing discoveries”

  1. Christoph Says:

    Just wanted to let you know that so far, I like your story. But till now, for each answer we get, there’s a new question as well (What happened during the first experiment? Who firewalled Starry’s core? Who sabotaged the pilot’s chair? Is there anyone on board who knows more than he let on?) – hopefully, you’ll have mercy on your readers and won’t keep piling them one atop another forever ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Christoph Says:

    btw, the CSS is slightly broken: I don’t think that smilies within comments should be `float:left`

  3. Melanie Says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Christoph! Glad to hear you’re enjoying it. At the moment, we’re still in the part where Starwalker is discovering what she doesn’t know – the answers to those questions are on the way. It will fill in with answers!

    Hmm, I’ll take a look at the CSS. Silly smilies! I’ll see if I can make them behave.

  4. Melanie Says:

    Smilies fixed! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Steph Says:

    I really love this new blog, although I liked AB more. I love getting to know the new characters, you make a genre that I usually don’t have much interest in a highlight for my day.

    I wish you updated this one more often, I hate having to wait so long between posts (although I used to find the wait for AB updates unbareable, guess there is no pleasing us readers)

    Anyway, KEEP WRITING, I look forward to the day when I can have a collection of your books living on my bookcase. ^_^ I look forward to Wednesdays post.

  6. Becka Says:

    Hmmm, well I’m certainly developing some theories about what’s going on with Starwalker.

    I’m not sure if I should expound upon them or not though.

  7. Melanie Says:

    Steph – thank you! ๐Ÿ˜€ It makes me happy to know that you’re enjoying it. I wish I could update more often too, but sometimes three times a week is a push right now!

    I’m looking forward to the day when you have a collection of my books, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Becka – hee! Well, that’s up to you. I wonder if I should set up a reader’s forum where you can all get together and swap theories. Hmmm.

  8. Daniel Says:

    You went from no comments to comments enabled on AB, so a forum for all things [your work] might be a really cool idea.

  9. Melanie Says:

    Hmm. I shall put that in the ideas bin and see what time gives me. Thanks!