03 Aug

Factory for Electronics, Robotics, Artificials, and Starships

Ship's log, 21:14, 13 February 2214
Location: Lambda 1 system
Status: Exiting orbit of Lambda 1 Sol (Primary)

 

Here I am, the home of my makers. Time to introduce myself. Deep breath.

 

STARWALKER: (over external comms) Feras flight control, this is the Starwalker, requesting permission to dock.

FERAS: Feras flight control to unidentified ship, halt immediately and hold position.

STARWALKER: Feras flight control, I am identifying myself. This is the–

FERAS: Unidentified ship, hold position and await instructions.

 

Well, that’s not exactly the reception I had hoped for. Why won’t they accept my ident? It’s one of theirs!

 

STARRY: (in Engineering) Elliott, could there be–

ELLIOTT: (scowling) There’s nothing wrong with the ident! It’s installed and running properly; I tested it myself.

STARRY: Me too. Then why won’t they–

ELLIOTT: I don’t know! …I’ll check it again. Hold on.

 

CAMERON: (near Cargo Bay 4, frowning at the sensor readouts on her console) Do as they ask, Starry.

STARRY: I am. I don’t understand, though.

CAMERON: Scan the colony and give me what you find.

STARRY: You think there’s something going on?

CAMERON: Maybe.

STARRY: Scanning.

 

I’m turning all my external sensors to the colony in front of me, while I hover between it and the twin stars of Lambda 1. There isn’t much in this system: the two stars orbit the blank space between them, and the colony moves in a circuit around both. Inside the colony’s orbit, in a high sector from my current position, there’s a cloud of debris. That’s where they dump junk, waste, decommissioned ships, and anything else they don’t want cluttering up their manmade planet. If sometimes the twin stars suck some of it up, that’s fine according to Feras.

Feras: the Factory for Electronics, Robotics, Artificials, and Starships; Is-Tech’s company marvel and money-sink. From here, most of my sensors are blocked by the huge scoop they use to capture the stars’ energy and radiation, protecting the colony and powering it at the same time. I have to hack a comms buoy to see around the scoop, and even then I only get a partial view; comms buoys don’t have the best sensors.

The colony is a tarball rolling around this system like a dull marble. Inside Feras’s crispy shell, it’s a series of concentric spheres: from the executive offices in the centre, through living quarters and out to the various layers of laboratories, workshops, and factory lines. The outer surface is covered in docks and hangars, making its round shape prickly and uneven. Half-built monstrosities stick out from the surface, obscured by the workshops that fold around them and security curtains that hide the construction’s details from passing scanners. Tether lines extend out at intervals, suspending cargo pods that act as storehouses a distance above the surface; there, they won’t take up too much precious planet-side space and they stop ships from getting too close to secure sectors. Outside all of that, security drones drift in a carefully-calculated net, making up the final sphere of Feras.

There’s a halo of ships moving around the colony. Mostly cargo ships, moving raw material in and taking completed products out. They swap empty pods for full ones at the ends of those tethers. Delivered pods are retracted down to the surface and beneath to be emptied.

The inside of the colony isn’t open to the public and spawns rumours. Some say that there’s a garden in the centre, full of flowers that bloom only at night. Others say that the colony saves power by using centrifugal force instead of true artificial gravity, and that’s why the colony spins. They make everyone walk around on the insides of the spheres and the curved floors keep the workers fit. So the rumours say.

It could be as simple as a measure to keep the colony’s temperature even under the radiation of a double star. But people like to tell stories. Danika grew up with them: the crew of her father’s ship would compete to come up with the most outrageous and yet plausible speculation about mysteries like Feras. It made the long weeks in space more fun.

She remembers them talking about the name. Is-Tech made up the term ‘artificials’ for it, eschewing the accepted ‘artificial intelligence’ or ‘artificial life’. The consensus seems to be that their marketing department didn’t want the colony to be called ‘Ferals’; it wasn’t the image they were going for.

As if changing their name would make AIs less troublesome. Yeah, that’s bound to work.

I was built somewhere in that colony. This body I move around the heavens was constructed in one of those hangars; I’m too small and precious to have an exposed dock. Was there a ceremony when I was officially commissioned? Did I launch to a fanfare, or slip quietly out into the system’s traffic?

I should have asked John. Danika wasn’t on board until afterwards; her memories tell me nothing about my birth. Were any of my crew around then? Was John? Maybe it was just Cirillli and her team. I have the logs from the original AI, I could look it up…

 

FERAS: (over an encryted channel) Unidentified ship, move to specified coordinates. Transmitting data now.

STARWALKER: Received. Feras flight control, I have medical emergencies on board, and–

FERAS: Move to the specified coordinates and await further instructions.

STARWALKER: Complying.

 

I don’t like this. It doesn’t feel right.

 

CAMERON: (over internal comms) Starry, where are those coordinates?

STARRY: Upper right quadrant. Here.

(A display opens up next to the sensor feeds that the Chief is watching, showing a chart of the system and the blinking light of their destination.)

CAMERON: They’re sending you into the debris cloud.

STARRY: Yes. This isn’t standard, is it?

CAMERON: (frowning) No, it’s not. Move quickly and quietly, and find us a position with good sensor coverage.

STARRY: Aye, ma’am. Full sublight, scanning for a suitable position.

 

I feel like I’m scurrying into a hiding place. Is that what I’m supposed to be doing? What the hell is going on?

Usually, I’d enjoy the prospect of flying through a cloud like Feras’s junkpile. I love to duck and weave, spinning through gaps shaped just for me and heating up my thrusters until Elliott sighs at me and shakes his head.

Right now, I look at it and I feel sick. I’m streaking across the system at full sublight, but it’s still going to take me several minutes to get to the debris cloud. I feel exposed. My hull prickles, like hairs on the back of my neck lifting when everyone is staring at me.

Cameron is focussing on the ships in the system. What is she looking for?

Hold on. That’s the Davey Jones, one of the ships that Is-Tech sent after me. It fought the pirates while I escaped through Gienah Sol. It took a hell of a pounding; there are scores across its hull from combat lasers, ragged circular pocks and tears from missile hits. It’s missing one of its rear sections entirely, and it looks like one of its sides decompressed hard enough to rip open several compartments. It’s hard to make out details from here; repair workshops have been folded around the worst-hit areas and are alight with activity.

No sign of its sister ship, the Kraken Unbound. I wonder if it survived. The Lieutenant did think that Hunt would capture at least one of them.

Is that why they don’t want to talk to me? Because I cost them one of their big, new battleships? What, are they sending me off to the naughty step? They don’t even know what happened! I don’t know what happened!

 

CAMERON: Starry, any comms activity?

STARRY: Nothing pointed in our direction. I’m keeping an ear on the rest of the chatter, but there’s nothing about us there.

CAMERON: Any more encrypted comunications?

STARRY: Yeah, a few.

CAMERON: Can you pinpoint the chatters?

STARRY: Up on your left-hand display. I’ll highlight them as I pick up the comms.

CAMERON: Thanks

STARRY: What are you looking for?

CAMERON: Not sure yet.

 

She’s sure that they’re talking about us, but not openly. Is that a good or a bad sign?

I’m reaching the debris cloud. Cutting the sublights and sliding inside on momentum alone. Subduing all outputs except thruster flares to nudge us around obstacles. I’m a whisper, but I’d like to shout. I want to scream: don’t you see me? Don’t you want to see me?

I have no captain to demand answers for me. I’m just a ship. Cameron is the closest I have to an acting captain, but she’s keeping her cards close to her chest. Doing as she’s told while she works out how to get what she wants. That’s what makes her such a good Chief of Security.

Cirilli. She’s the project leader: she knows people at Feras; she can demand answers. Maybe she knows what they’re up to.

 

STARRY: (on mid-deck) Dr Cirilli, do you know what’s going on?

CIRILLI: (frowning at the data on her screens; on the left side, Step data flows in ragged jumps as it runs through a processing loop, and on the right, a comms channel flashes a ‘pending’ message) No.

STARRY: They haven’t told you anything? You have contacts, right?

CIRILLI: (irritated) They won’t pick up my call. Something about your ident.

STARRY: You don’t know why they’d ask us to park in the debris cloud?

CIRILLI: (lifts her gaze away from the data displays) They’re sending you into the junkpile?

STARRY: Yes.

CIRILLI: No, I don’t know why they’d do that.

STARRY: Okay. Stand by; I’ll let you know when I know something.

 

Well, she wasn’t much use, but she does look perturbed. Something is definitely off. And–

Wait. That’s weird.

 

STARRY: (near Cargo Bay 4) Chief, I’m picking up some strange comms traffic.

CAMERON: Strange how?

STARRY: They’re refusing other ships’ idents.

CAMERON: (punches up the comms reports) Which ships?

STARRY: Uh. All of them, I think. It’s hard to tell exactly; the captains are going nuts.

CAMERON: And they’re moving everyone out to a wider orbit?

STARRY: They’re trying to, if they can get a word in between the bitching. And I thought I was trouble. Wow, not even Elliott would use some of this language.

CAMERON: When did it start?

STARRY: Couple of minutes ago, I think. Maybe earlier.

CAMERON: (frowns at the reports) No other ships coming this way?

STARRY: Hard to tell; there’s a lot of shifting orbits out there. But I don’t think so.

CAMERON: They’re covering us.

STARRY: Trying to hide us? That’s not a good sign, is it?

CAMERON: (sighs and shakes her head) Too early to say, but given our track record…

STARRY: (finishes for her) …probably not. Okay.

CAMERON: To be safe, lock down the comms and shut down as many emissions as you can.

STARRY: Working on it.

 

I’ve withdrawn the heating systems to my internal sectors only, except for Cargo Bay 4. My hull is cooling and my heat radiation is going down, closer to that of the junk floating nearby. I’m a small, unimportant piece in this mess; nothing to see here. I’m settling into a position where I can still scan the system, between the bulks of an ancient sublight engine that’s bigger than I am and what used to be half of a warship. No thrusters now. Just sensors, scraping up every little nugget of data I can get, like a mouse stealing cheese crumbs.

This is great. I come home and get shut in a cupboard. No ‘nice to see you’, no ‘how are you’; not even a ‘hello’. Hardly the prodigal child’s return: more like the red-headed stepchild.

I wouldn’t mind so much if I knew why this was happening.

Could it be just a malfunction on the colony? Nothing to do with me at all? Maybe they found it after I arrived and are pushing all the ships out while they get it fixed. Maybe it’s coincidence. Maybe I’m being paranoid.

I have a hold full of captive pirates and so far, one-sixth of my crew has betrayed me: I think I’m allowed to be a little bit paranoid. My code tells me that the world doesn’t revolve around me – not even the fake world of Feras – but why does it always seem that way?

I want to go bang on the door and demand answers. Instead, I’m hiding; I’m doing as I’m told, like a good ship. But I need help! My crew needs help. Don’t they know that? Why won’t they talk to me?

Feras, you’re not the home I’d hoped for.

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4 Responses to “Factory for Electronics, Robotics, Artificials, and Starships”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Awww…

    Poor Starry *comforts and hugs*

    That is not a nice reception. I wonder, did the Pirates capture the Davey Jones and try to get access to the Feras?

    I hope they soon get some real help…

    mjkj

    .

    PS: Typo suspected:
    Inside Ferasโ€™s crispy shell, itโ€™s a series of coincentric spheres => concentric without the first “i”

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    aww… now that looks painfully like more trouble for starry… allthough anything could happen at this point i guess, not much info to go by.

    *gives that tortured little ai another hug*

    @mjkj… spotted that as well.. but maybe it indicates feras’ focus on the monetary stuff? ๐Ÿ˜›

  3. Melanie Says:

    Starry is so lucky – so many hugs for her! She needs them right now.

    Your questions will be answered soon!

    Yes. The typo was entirely intentional and a reflection of the corporate culture of the colony. (Also, fixed now, thanks mjkj ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

  4. mjkj Says:

    You are welcome ๐Ÿ™‚