08 Aug

Ethical rebellion

Ship's log, 09:29, 3 April 2214
Location: Orbit around Terra Sol, Home system
Status: Maintaining orbit


CAPT: (watching Dr Cirilli, he holds up a hand for quiet) Lorena, what is it?


Everyone is gathered on the Bridge. The mood has been positive for several minutes but that’s slipping away from us now. The room is falling quiet as attention turns to Dr Cirilli. Her mouth is set into a tense line; uncomfortable and grim.

Butterflies in my stomach or dustbunnies in my ducts; it all feels the same right to me.


CIRILLI: (standing reluctantly, but with a lift to her chin) Whether or not we can Step without damaging the stars is the wrong question.

DR VALDIMIR: So what’s the right one?

CIRILLI: It’s not a matter of whether we can. It’s whether we should.

(Silence falls on the Bridge for a few seconds.)

CIRILLI: The nature of the Step drive is gravity manipulation on a massive scale, but focussed on a tiny point in space. Buffering it may not be possible. But however we do it, we all know that stars are not insensitive phenomena. To continue to try is to knowingly damage and hurt a sentient creature.


She’s right; how could we even start testing it without hurting another star? How many avatars would we have to face? Do we have the right to do something like that?


CIRILLI: We have also seen how destructive this technology can be. This project was designed to be an alternative travel mechanism. But how many other ways could it be ‘optimised’?


She’s talking about someone weaponising the Step drive. Using it to do what we did to Earth, to another planet. On purpose. I haven’t thought about that before; the possibility never crossed my processors. It’s not what we’re here for.

But someone could use it for that. They could use it to snuff out stars, destabilise entire systems, destroy colonies and the companies that own them…


CIRILLI: Add to that the implications of its time travel capability, the potential to damage the entire fabric of space and time, and we must ask the question: should this technology be perfected?

EBLING: (staring at her) You’re suggesting that we should abandon the project? It’s your project!

CIRILLI: (to Ebling) And I would be a poor scientist if I didn’t consider all of the evidence before me. Too long, this project has progressed under false pretences and false promises. Not all technology is good, nor can it all be trusted to those who hold it. The damage that it has already done is testament to its potential. And for what? A faster way to travel? (She shakes her head.)

CAPTAIN: Lorena, you’re talking about abandoning your life’s work.

CIRILLI: No, it’s more than that. Abandoning it won’t be enough. We must make sure that none can follow in our footsteps.

EBLING: You want to destroy the project?

STARRY: (quietly) But…

ELLIOTT: (getting to his feet) No fucking way! Captain, you can’t…

LANG LANG: (eyes wide) Destroy it?


She wants to destroy it all. Kill me. Take away everything I am. She wants to destroy me.

They’re all shouting now. Rosie’s holding Elliott back, while my engineer looks set to take a swing at Cirilli. Ebling is furious for very different reasons. So angry, all of them. So many voices and I can’t say a word. What is there to say?

It’s not like she’s wrong.

But I don’t want to die.



(A sheen of silence stretches across the Bridge, fragile and trembling. Elliott shoves Rosie’s hands off him and subsides. Ebling is glaring at Cirilli. Lang Lang continues to look shocked, while Cameron sweeps a thoughtful gaze across the crew. The most unmoved crewmember present is Swann, who rests his hand on his weapon casually as if waiting for an excuse to use it.)

CAPT: Everyone, back to your seats, now.

(The crew drift back to their places. Only Cameron and Starry don’t sit; the former retreats to the edge of the room to keep an eye on things, while the latter has no seat to use. The avatar stands awkwardly in the centre of the bridge, the holographic swirls of star-paths curling around her.)

CAPT: Dr Cirilli, what you’re suggesting will end every career on this ship. Turning against our company that way will mean that we’ll never get another contract.

CIRILLI: (looking the captain in the eye) Do you think we’re not already there? Isasimo Technologies has been lying to us since they bought this project and made promises they had no intention to keep. They’ve sent us off on our own, cut ties with us. Do you think they’re not already claiming breach of contract?

CAPT: (frowns, because he can find no good argument against that.)

ELLIOTT: (looks around with his jaw set stubbornly) You’re fucking kidding me.

CAPT: You think we should stay loyal to the company?

ELLIOTT: Fuck the company! You’re talking about destroying Starry!

CAPT: (glances at the avatar and hesitates, seeing the distraught look on her face) Lorena, is that what you’re proposing?

CIRILLI: (blinks with surprise) No! That’s not what I meant.

ELLIOTT: Then what did you mean by ‘destroy the project’? Huh?

CIRILLI: The parts of the project on the ship would need to be destroyed, but… (She looks at the avatar with a whisper of apology in her expression.) …there’s no need to destroy the ship itself.

STARRY: (looks from her captain to the head of the project and back again) Okay.


I want to say ‘but’. But what about the data I hold? But what about the secrets I know? But what if someone deconstructed my schematics and filled in the gaps? But what if someone asked how I came to be?

It’s a risk. I’m a risk. No-one is proposing that they kill me, but it might be necessary. All the data I’m running is telling me that.

But I can’t say it out loud. I can’t ask them to add me to the demolition list.

I don’t want to die.


CAPT: (to everyone present) Does anyone disagree, then? That this project should be stopped and not allowed to continue because it’s too dangerous?

EBLING: That’s hardly stopped science from progressing before.

CIRILLI: But we have a chance now. To stop it before it goes any further.

EBLING: (scowls and folds his arms) I don’t disagree with the principle. I just think it’s unrealistic.

CAPT: Anyone else?

(Silence falls on the Bridge, uncomfortable but complete. The captain nods, taking this as consensus.)

CAPT: (to Cirilli) I take it that what you have in mind is more than simply removing the equipment from on board the ship.

CIRILLI: (nods and looks around the Bridge) This ship is only one piece of the project. To prevent anyone from recreating my work, we will need to destroy all of it. Including the lab and my original notes on Feras, and the equipment we used to run the tests around Corsica.

CAMERON: (from the edge of the room) You’re asking us to go to war with Is-Tech.

CIRILLI: (hesitates, digesting that idea. She nods slowly, as if the idea was solidifying in her head.) Yes, I suppose I am.


Oh god. Are we really talking about this?

They made me. Literally. They’re the closest thing I have to parents, owners, masters. Leaving their influence is one thing, but… war?


CAPT: (after a moment’s thoughtful pause) Chief, what do you think?

CAMERON: If we abandon the project, they’ll just hunt us down. We’ll be fugitives whichever way we go. Is-Tech didn’t get to where it is by letting this kind of thing go away peacefully; they’ll want to silence us. Permanently.

CAPT: (nods) There’s no easy way out for us.

CAMERON: If we want to cover it up, we can’t take it to the Judiciary.

CAPT: They’d bury us in paperwork and litigation.

CAMERON: And probably arrest us anyway. We’d have to do it on our own. But putting this kind of genie back in the bottle isn’t going to be easy. The physical parts are a challenge by themselves, but getting rid of all of the data is something else.

CAPT: Can we do it?

CAMERON: Not without a data security infiltration expert. We’d need a real master to pull something like this off.

CAPT: Like Tripi.

CAMERON: (grimly) Yes.


Tripi. She’s lucky she’s in Judiciary custody, because if they brought her back here I’d probably blast her out of an airlock. Bitch. She did know her stuff but that doesn’t mean I’d welcome her back. Not after everything she did.


CAPT: Apart from that, any concerns?

CAMERON: Above and beyond the usual? (She hesitates, exchanging a long look with the captain.) With the right information and a swift, targetted attack, we might be able to pull it off.

CAPT: (turning his attention to the rest of the room) What do you all think? Are you ready to go to war?

EBLING: This is crazy. You can’t undo a discovery like this.

CIRILLI: We must.

EBLING: You based this whole project on a recording of a single Step. How many other recordings are out there now? How much data will we have to chase down? (He shakes his head.) It’s not possible.

CIRILLI: (lifting her chin) I believe we have to try.

CAPT: (looks questioning around the room, pausing on one crewmember at a time, starting with the SecOffs.)

ROSIE: (grins) Sounds like it’ll be a hell of a fight.

SWANN: (shrugs) Haven’t turned away from a challenge yet. (He glances pointedly at Ebling, who ignores him.)

DOC: Is-Tech sent me to the project to get rid of me. I say we screw them.

ELLIOTT: (scowling) Wouldn’t mind punching them in the face myself.

LANG LANG: (pale and quiet) It’s the right thing to do.

CAPT: (turning his gaze to the last person on the Bridge) Starry?


He’s asking me? But I’m just the ship. I guess I get a say in this, too.

They all have such good points. Even Ebling: undoing something like information is incredibly hard. Governments have been trying for millennia, and there are always whispers of the truth escaping. In recent centuries, companies have been rising in the espionage stakes as they seek to protect their investments and their bottom lines. Attacks and defenses are always shifting.

It’s the right thing to do. Futile or not, we have to try. But war?

I’m not properly equipped for this. I’m not a warship. I don’t have the protocols in place to tell me what I should do.

There is a fragment of memory that keeps bobbing to the surface of my mind. A glimpse of Feras from the outside of the universe, an explosion so bright that my sensors could barely capture it. It was just a tiny slip in time, a single moment there and gone again, but I don’t have enough data to tell me when it might have been. Or why. Could that have been because of me? Is that something I’m going to cause? Is that what this war means?

Am I okay with that?

Stupid ship, the captain’s waiting for an answer. Make a decision.

What are our options? We can’t just run away and we can’t let it continue, with all it does to stars and the threat that it poses. There’s no-one else to sort this out; it’s down to us. We have to do something. For once, Cirilli and I are in complete agreement.

Except about me.

There’s a lot of work to do before we worry about my fate. There are stars to fix and an ident to change. There’s a war to wage and maybe I’ll be destroyed in it. Maybe none of my people will have to make that choice: the one that ends me. It’s too soon to tell and I’m not ready to give up yet.

Miles to go before I sleep.


STARRY: (lifts her head and looks the captain in the eye. She pauses, her chest rising as if she’s taking a deep breath.) I think… I’m gonna need some bigger guns.

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11 Responses to “Ethical rebellion”

  1. mjkj Says:

    +1 for bigger guns šŸ˜›

    poor Starry *hugs her*

    Hmmm, I wonder how they should go at it…

    I think they should contact Kess and ask for a second opinion — I think Kess has some connections they could use — as you can see her trying to block them at first — maybe they even can get the pirates as support to strike at IsTech…

    *looking forward to the next update*


  2. Eduardo Says:

    Heh, Stary has an advantage over all of us. She can increase the capabilities of her brain.
    This is the ultimate weapon.

  3. Targetdrone Says:

    *hugs starry*
    you shall have your bigger guns..

    seriously though… whats with all of them so eager to destroy knowledge because one nutjob (cirilli) thinks she knows what needs to be done…

    is she just as certain as she was when she started the project?

    i mean, they are making a rather monumental decision rather on a whim and without any real fact finding there…

    1 says lets destroy the drive and all data, and everyone just gets out the pitchforks and torches? mightily unprofessional.. :p

    well.. lets see where this mob mentality will get them :p
    (i just hope starry can get her hands? wings? on some capital class weaponry just in case :p)

  4. Salrissa Says:

    If Cirilli did all this from one recording of a step – surely because of the nature of events at the time, multiple recording devices were pointing at the sun when Starry was doing her stuff. They may not know that Steps are possible, but surely hundreds of people already know about the dangerous bit – gravity manipulation of a star.

  5. Blik Says:

    I’ve been lurking long enough. This story is amazing. I’m thrilled with every turn.

    Starry’s response shows she’s committed to the course. And we just caught a glimpse of how long and rocky her course will be. War with Is-Tech! That’s an audacious undertaking. However this story wraps up, there’s one thing I know.

    Your characters are so real, your situations so dramatically executed, your emotional development so deep, that when the journey is over, I know, whatever happens.
    I will be in tears.

  6. mjkj Says:

    Hmm, one thing is: nobody else will be stepping without Starry, because no computer and no human can handle that.

    What with the gravitational influencing of a star — that might be possible without Starry — so that is the real danger…


  7. Belial666 Says:

    Apparently, Cirilli didn’t think this one through. Stopping the technology of Stepping might save the timeline from mortal influence BUT it won’t stop the destruction of stars and it isn’t going to stop the destruction of planets.

    First of all, any spaceship capable of moving at an interesting interplanetary speed can destroy a planet by ramming it. Moving at a “mere” 1% lightspeed (that is, needing roughly 13 hours for an Earth-Sun trip) gives something a kinetic energy of 2,25 TJ per pound. To realize how ridiculously high energy that is, a half-ton of matter moving at that speed would hit harder than the biggest nuke we’ve ever built.
    Consider that a starship would be considerably larger than half a ton – probably at least five thousand tons (the size of a small cruiser today) and even at that relative crawl of 1% lightspeed, a ship ramming a planet would make a crater the size of Texas and kill all life on the planet.
    Add to that the fact that starships don’t actually have a max speed in space except for that of light – they could accelerate for a long period till they reached 99% lightspeed – and ramming a planet at that speed would make that solar flare look like a hiccup.

    Secondly, gravity manipulation technology already exists in this universe and a generator the size of a small ship appears to be enough to manipulate the gravity of a star. Suppose you only build a generator large enough to affect an object a few hundred thousand times smaller? Say, Earth. And not enough to create a pin singularity either – just enough to compress a few hundred thousand cubic meters of water into fusion pressures. Every livable planet has a water supply – and the hydrogen in that water only needs a tiny, tiny gravity pinch to turn into a fusion bomb that can melt continents.

    In short, even simplistic applications of stellar travel technology can destroy planets and significantly damage, if not destroy, stars. Why is Cirilli worrying about the Step Drive being able to do the same?

  8. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – yes! I’m sure they’ll probably try to call on Kess again to get some guidance. They have a lot to do before they start their war campaign in earnest, so they have time to work it out. šŸ™‚

    Eduardo – I love it! šŸ˜€ She needs to upgrade. More capacity for all kinds of things!

    Targetdrone – yeah, Cirilli is not reacting well to the reality of her life’s work. Guilt can look like determination in the right light (she has a lot of reasons to feel guilty right now!), and the crew were in the right frame of mind to accept it.

    You know something’s wrong when Ebling is a reliable reality check. šŸ˜‰

    Salrissa – yup! The possibility of putting that kind of genie back in the bottle is terribly small. How long until someone else puts the same pieces together that Cirilli did?

    Blik – great to hear from you again! Glad to know you’re still reading. šŸ™‚ Awwww, I’m so happy you’re enjoying the story! I shall try not to have TOO many tearjerking moments. But as Starry says, ‘miles to go….’ šŸ˜‰

    mjkj – yes. I think there’s a few things bundled together in here that they’ll need to pick apart when they figure out their plan of attack. Are they stopping Step technology? Or the manipulation of stars?

    As Belial666 so wonderfully points out, with the technology already out in the world, destruction is already frighteningly easy. While this is a first step towards undoing the damage they’ve done, I think they’ll need to decide exactly what damage they can and will try to fix. šŸ™‚

  9. mjkj Says:

    Wow, thank you for your extensive answers, Melanie šŸ™‚ *hugs*

  10. daymon34 Says:

    Making the tech safe could work, but making it so time can’t be changed would be a pain. And all it takes is one person fiddling with the engine and finding the falesafes to remove them.

    Still going to be one nasty uphill fight.

  11. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – you’re welcome! šŸ˜€ Happy to oblige.

    daymon34 – yup, absolutely. Stay tuned! Lots more to come.