25 May

Fluctuations of power

Ship's log, 10:27, 1 February 2214
Location: Positional orbit around Gienah Sol
Status: Stationary

 

Finally, I’m starting to feel whole again. My edges are the right shape, my skin has been repainted, and I have thrusters back in all the right places. My filaments are fixed and settled into their channels along my hull. I’m dizzy with all the diagnostics that have been run on integrity, propulsion and environmentals. Wong is still sniping about needing to do more calibration on the Step drive, but the Lieutenant is pushing for us to get out of here already.

I haven’t had time to get the countermeasures set up, the ones that will help me break free from pirate rule. All of my hands have been busy with the essential repairs, under pressure from Lieutenant Laurence and our desire to get out of here. Every time I try to sneak one of my drones onto one of my own projects, I find Laurence looking over the reports and he asks me when we’ll be ready to go. Time and distance: that’s what I need.

 

HALF-FACE: (on the Bridge, sitting in the captain’s chair) Are we ready to initiate the Step yet?

STARRY: My systems are ready. What destination are we aiming for?

HALF-FACE: Home system.

STARRY: Earth?

HALF-FACE: Yes.

STARRY: Plotting course. Oh, I need my crew at their stations.

HALF-FACE: …what?

STARRY: Exactly what I just said. I need my crew at their Bridge stations.

HALF-FACE: I thought you piloted the Step.

STARRY: (materialising next to the holo tank, which is busy showing the nav data for the system) I do, but it’s still an experimental process. If anything goes wrong and they’re not at their posts, we’re, well. Toast.

HALF-FACE: (falls quiet, considering the problem) What’s the bare minimum of people?

STARRY: (raising her eyebrows at the Lieutenant) You want the bare minimum protecting your life?

HALF-FACE: (sharply) Just answer the question.

STARRY: (tilts her head) I need Lang Lang down here for navigation. Maletz, Elliott and Wong at their posts, for obvious reasons. Ebling usually monitors from mid-deck, Cirilli down here. Cameron and her team monitor for obstacles and any defensive threats–

HALF-FACE: My people can cover the SecOff positions.

STARRY: They’re not as familiar with my systems.

HALF-FACE: But I know they can be trusted.

STARRY: (scowls at him) And my captain–

HALF-FACE: Is no longer the captain.

STARRY: (putting her hands on her hips) My captain holds it all together. He knows how to coordinate a Step. Do you?

HALF-FACE: You answer to me now.

STARRY: Fine, whatever. I still need him to coordinate.

HALF-FACE: (frowns) You can have everyone except the SecOffs.

STARRY: (taps her fingers on her hips) And your people need to stay out of the way. If you wanna lurk over us with guns, do it from a distance.

HALF-FACE: This doesn’t sound much like you answering to me, y’know.

STARRY: I’m here to tell you what we need so we come out the other side in one piece. If you want to know what happens to something stuck outside the universe, check the logs of what happened when we sent a sensor buoy out there. Your weapons are ranged, so keep them at range. (She hesitates, then drops her hands off her hips, assuming a less aggressive stance.) You’re gonna have to trust me. Us.

HALF-FACE: (considers her thoughtfully) Your captain will be allowed on the Bridge. If you do anything out of line, he goes first. (His head inclines towards the weapon holstered on his thigh.)

STARRY: Fine, whatever makes you all fluffy and warm at night.

HALF-FACE: (nods.)

STARRY: (starts to dissolve, then snaps back to full visibility) You should know that the Step tends to be a bit rough. I have to disable the inertial dampeners.

HALF-FACE: What the hell?

STARRY: It’s… look, you’ll see. Just be ready, okay?

HALF-FACE: I’d like to–

STARRY: (disappears.)

HALF-FACE: Dammit!

 

Now that’s interesting. Making my avatar disappear makes them think I’m not there any more. I can still hear him; my sensors never turn off on the Bridge. Only the personal quarters have privacy filters. That seems easy for him to forget.

I’ll have to remember that reaction; it might come in useful sometime. For now, it’s a nice way to stop him asking questions that will delay me even further.

He’s not that bad, though. He’s passing the orders to get my crew up here, just like he said he would, and he’s instructing the guards to assume a non-interference stance whilst remaining watchful. All right, as long as they don’t get in the way.

Another Step. It seems like so long since I did one. I’ve been around for a year and I’ve only Stepped twice; that seems like nowhere near enough to me. If Cirilli is going to collect meaningful data, we’re going to need to do a lot better than that. Not to mention that I’ve only mapped a fraction of the outside of the universe. I’m not even sure that my current data stores will hold an entire map.

Do I have Earth on my maps yet? I don’t think I’ve found the path of her sun, but I know where it should be. Home system, also known as the Terra system. I wonder why the pirates are taking me there. A little public and open for an exchange, isn’t it?

People are sifting into place. Lang Lang is trailing after Cirilli from mid-deck, looking around with wide eyes. She’s still unnerved by the sight of the motley armour of the pirates and the brazen weapons they carry. It’s like she’s not sure what it all means, but I think that most of the time, she’s so bound up in the science of her navigation data that she forgets about it.

I wonder what else she escapes that way. You can’t get that kind of focus without a desire to block a lot of stuff out. Or maybe she really does love to unravel celestial mysteries that much. Her imagination hooked onto the stars from her home on the Earth Moonbase and wouldn’t let them go again. She often says that this project was her first and best chance to travel the stars, and the fact that she gets to see their entire lifespans from the outside of the universe only makes her more dedicated to us.

Still, she looks like a scared sheep among all these wolves. I’ve seen a couple of them eyeing her up. If they try anything, I’ll have Waldo laser something vital off them.

I’m not so worried about the rest. Cirilli is fine: she’s so upright and stern that the pirates don’t look at her that way. Rosie would be more than a match for any of them on a physical level – and would probably relish the challenge – and no-one messes with Cameron if they have half a brain. Maletz would get a kick out of inappropriate interference, which seems to be enough to put them off. Ebling and Wong seem to be holding their own (so to speak), though they’re getting some looks like Lang Lang. Elliott is so busy that no-one dares to interrupt him.

I’m afraid to think of what he’d do if anyone tried anything, especially after what happened with Tripi.

I’m afraid of what I’d do if anyone tried anything with him. I’d– I don’t know. The thought of it makes my systems want to seize up.

No time to worry about that now. The captain is on his way to the Bridge, and a couple of pirates are taking up positions at weapons stations, replacing Cameron, Rosie and my absent Tyler.

I miss my SecOffs. There’s something comforting about their hands on my weapon controls, like I know they’ve got my back. There are pirates in their place and I don’t know whose interests they’re looking out for. Intellectually and logically, I know that they’re going to defend us as best they can to save their own skins. But there’s always that doubt. That thought that maybe they’ll let something slip through just to spite me, or my captain, or my crew. And I don’t know how good they are at what they do, either.

We make do with what we’ve got, I guess. I just don’t have to like it.

 

HALF-FACE: (looks around the Bridge at the mixture of shipsuits and body armour) Everyone is in position. Starry, time to Step.

STARRY: Taking us in towards the star.

 

Star Step drive initialising.
Filaments extending.

 

CIRILLI: (on the Bridge) Wait, I have an anomaly.

STARRY: Holding position, await–

WONG: (from mid-deck) Abort! Abort the Step!

 

Uh oh, a surge. I have to–

 

Warning.
Warning.
Star Step drive disabled.
Filaments disabled.
Warning.

 

Power surge. Have to divert it. I smell burning. Can’t let it blow out my systems. Protect the environmentals. Protect the crew. I smell burning.

Have to get us out of here. Have to get us clear. Engines. Divert the surge to the engines. Elliott will kill me if I overload them again. Kill me. It burns.

 

HALF-FACE: (on the Bridge, lit by the dim emergency lights) …damn ship, answer me!

 

Pressure’s easing. Surge vented through engines. Almost clear.

I wonder how long he’s been trying to get me to respond.

 

STARRY: Little busy right now.

HALF-FACE: Report!

STARRY: Power surge. Moving to a safer orbit.

HALF-FACE: Is that normal?

CAPTAIN WARWICK: (grim-faced) No. It’s bad news.

 

ELLIOTT: (listening in from Engineering and muttering to himself) Always surges when the fuckin’ pirates are involved. (Louder) Starry, you all right?

STARRY: (quietly) Yeah. Slightly singed in a couple of places.

ELLIOTT: (punching up the damage reports and swearing to himself. The main lights flick back on, replacing the emergency lights.)

 

If I had hands, they’d be shaking. Elliott is furious; the captain looks worried. He keeps glancing around the Bridge for my avatar, but I don’t have it out. I don’t know what it would look like if I did.

Uh oh. It looks like they’ve found the cause. Wong was so busy freaking out about how we needed to do more calibration that he forgot to check that all of his diagnostics were finished. The double weight of testing and starting the drive up near an unstable star overloaded a couple of relays and caused the surge.

How did I not see that? My monitors only detected minor activity in the drive when I spun it up.

 

HALF-FACE: (angrily) What do you mean, the Step drive wasn’t ready?

EBLING: (over internal comms, from mid-deck) It was in the middle of diagnostics.

HALF-FACE: And the orders to prepare for a Step didn’t tip you off that maybe the diagnostics should have been stopped?

WONG: We didn’t know it was still running!

HALF-FACE: (to the Bridge) Starry, why the hell didn’t you pick that up? Don’t you have failsafes for this?

STARRY: (tightly, voice only) No. I don’t have access to that side of the Step drive systems.

HALF-FACE: I thought you ran the Steps.

STARRY: I do. But apparently I don’t have access to the diagnostics. Not enough to know that something like that is running.

HALF-FACE: But… that’s ridiculous.

STARRY: I know.

 

I’ve never had to worry about it before. Wong handles all the diagnostics of the Step drive; I don’t even process the data for him. Always, the science team has been so careful that I haven’t known about the possibility of a problem. Of course, now that I know the gap is there, it yawns at me; an abyss ready to swallow me up.

I feel sick. I don’t even have a stomach. It feels like somewhere deep within my ducts, the dustbunnies are roiling in an uncertain tangle.

 

CIRILLI: (tautly, on the Bridge) There’s no need for the ship to have access. Those systems are sealed off for integrity and security.

HALF-FACE: It’s not very secure when it threatens to blow us all up.

STARRY: If I hadn’t diverted the surge, it would have torn off the filament couplings. We’d have had a massive forward hull breach, heading straight towards the star’s corona.

HALF-FACE: (to the captain) And you let them run it like this?

CAPT: (quietly, eyeing Cirilli) No, I didn’t know that the science team were able to partition access to the drive that way.

CIRILLI: It’s standard procedure on experiments like this. We need unfiltered access to the drive’s data, without the possibility of interference.

CAPT: But not at the expense of the ship’s access to it.

CIRILLI: You can’t–

HALF-FACE: (sharply) I don’t care what your experimental protocols say – remove the blocks. Give the ship full access, and I want an activity display down here in the Bridge, too.

CIRILLI: (turning to the Lieutenant) You can’t–

HALF-FACE: Shut up, doctor. This isn’t a debate.

CAPT: (to Dr Cirilli) Do as he says, Lorena.

CIRILLI: (stiffens and turns back to her console, speaking over internal comms) Seth, Ray, you heard the man. Open up the access.

 

I’m actually starting to like that Lieutenant. He doesn’t take any shit, and doesn’t have to play politics with the science team in order to maintain his position here. I guess there are advantages to waving a stick around at people after all.

So now I have to wait until I can see all of the systems on mid-deck. All those hidden little sections they didn’t want to tell me about. I wonder what other secrets they have hidden in there?

Perhaps this is my chance to get those countermeasures in place, the time I need to be able to get away from these pirates. I don’t want to hang around here, but I might as well take advantage of the delay while I–

Wait, the systems are coming up already. That was fast.

 

HALF-FACE: How long before we can try this again?

CIRILLI: (coldly) An hour, perhaps.

HALF-FACE: (nods.)

 

Barely time to catch my breath. Shit.

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12 Responses to “Fluctuations of power”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow that was fast πŸ™‚ thank you for updating πŸ˜€

    I hope you feel better?

    Oh, well, that was tight – that comes when you are in a hurry and do not heed your engineers to finish running proper diagnostics…

    …but yay for Starry getting access – I hope she will find some levers to play with and some hidden stuff to use for her plan to disable the pirates… πŸ˜€

    (Ah, well, maybe she will find more data about the crew also – and maybe about another saboteur or collaborator, or even that Tyler is with them – so she could focus on those aboard without having to rescue him…)

    mjkj

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    yay for update, especially if it means you might be better again? (maybe get-well hugs do work after all πŸ˜› )

    and yep, nice action, close call … and i am all for starry getting more access to her onboard systems …. freaking scientists and their control-mania πŸ˜›

  3. Matt Says:

    I hope that this update means that you are feeling better and have caught up with life.

    I am seriously impressed by your ability to create not only this story, but also the universe in which it exists.

    Please continue your art it is well appreciated.

  4. brightlilim Says:

    Good to see you’re feeling better, and thanks for posting! I do miss it (though I am more than happy to wait until you’re ready, rather than have a rushed post).

    I’m glad to hear that the pirates are good for something other than just being annoying…having power to override the scientists is good for something after all! Go Starry, and find out what secrets have been hidden from you (though I can’t imagine that they’re terribly startling secrets…).

  5. mjkj Says:

    [quote=brightlilim](though I am more than happy to wait until you’re ready, rather than have a rushed post)[/quote]
    seconded πŸ™‚

    I just hope that they have some other useful experimental stuff they keep in there locked away that Starry is able to use – maybe even against the pirates πŸ˜€

    mjkj

  6. Melanie Says:

    Thanks for the well-wishes everyone – I’m doing much better! Getting caught up with everything now, and feeling more on top of things.

    Targetdrone – hugs definitely work. You’ll never hear me say otherwise. πŸ˜‰

    Matt – welcome to the blog! Great to hear from you. Thanks so much for your comments. Glad you’re enjoying the story and its world – I’ve got piles of ideas for spin-offs and tales in other parts of the Starwalker universe, so it’s going to be around for a while yet! πŸ™‚

    Brightlilim / mjkj – I try not to rush them! I feel bad when I run late, but I know you guys are awesome enough to wait, so I try to take the time for them to be ready before they go up. And hell, sometimes I want to know what happens next!

    Just so you all know, the next post is shaping up nicely. So many more possibilities to play with! I’m excited for you all to see it. Bring on next week. πŸ˜€

  7. mjkj Says:

    [quote=Melanie]hugs definitely work. You’ll never hear me say otherwise. ;)[/quote]
    That is good to hear πŸ™‚

    *sends some more hugs*

    So you should be really fine soon πŸ˜€

    mjkj

  8. steveballmer Says:

    Gienah Sol was destroyed by a wormhole 50 years prior, how can this take place there?

  9. Retsof Says:

    Just found this the other day. This is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. It was on of those that sucks you in, and when you’re not reading it you’re thinking about the next time you can. I could continue gushing, but it’d be kind of redundant, don’t you think? Oh, and glad you’re feeling better, can’t wait for Wednesday.

  10. Um the Muse Says:

    Congrats on getting better. πŸ™‚

    I’ll bet the scientist team is hiding something major. It’s kind of bothered me that this experiment, which was supposedly the company’s last option in the pipe, was not watched over more carefully and that a lot of info was kept from the captain, yet the captain was still supposed to be in charge.

    I think the science team must’ve been working behind even the company’s collective back.

  11. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – πŸ˜€

    Um the Muse – I can neither confirm nor deny anything! πŸ˜‰

  12. Melanie Says:

    steveballmer – it was? Not in this story (or in reality?). I’m confused!

    Retsof – hi and welcome to the blog! Glad you’re enjoying the story. Thanks for the comments, and don’t worry about gushing! That sort of thing is always good. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the well-wishes, too.

    (Sorry replies are a little out of order. Must remember to approve comments before I start replying!)