05 May

Guards and grief

Ship's log, 18:54, 5 May 2213
Location: Grisette system
Status: Wide orbit around Grisette sol

 

When Elliott told me his theory about what the saboteur might try next, I almost shut down all accesses to my systems. I can run everything on my own if I need to. It’d be hard work and the crew would complain, but it’d be safe. I’d be safe.

The captain counselled caution. Don’t do anything yet. Pretend we know nothing. Otherwise, we might force their hand and that would be bad for all of us.

Recording: 10:15, 4 May

ELLIOTT: (in the captain’s cabin) So what the fuck do we do now?

CAPTAIN: I think it’s time that Cameron was involved.

ELLIOTT: We should trust her?

CAPT: She’s our Chief of Security, and she’s not implicated in this. We should let her do her job. Starwalker, ask her to come along, please.

STARWALKER: Aye, captain.

Cameron listened quietly to the reports and gathered evidence. She asked only once why she wasn’t involved from the start and absorbed the explanation with a taut frown. She didn’t protest her innocence or harp on the matter – she just took the information in, turned it over in her mental hands, and moved on to what’s important: what we have and what we do next.

She took her time going over the data, assembling a picture of it all for herself. Elliott grew restless, shifting in his chair and looking like he was about to interrupt at any moment. But no-one was saying anything: Cameron was deep in the reports and the captain was frowning at a digisheet.

My poor engineer wound up picking at his sleeve and poking at his wristband’s controls, scowling at his arm as if it had done something wrong. I’m not sure why he didn’t leave – I think he was afraid of being excluded from the investigation. He gets stubborn when he digs his heels into something and this whole matter has his defenses up. When he told me about his theory, he was so angry that I thought he was angry with me, for being vulnerable and a threat to them. It didn’t help that his words terrified me.

Recording: 23:58, 3 May

SW: I won’t let it happen, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering) But you won’t be able to help it! That’s the problem!

SW: I’ll shut myself down if I have to. Put in a subroutine that trips if the safeties come off again. I won’t let them hurt–

ELLIOTT: No! Don’t do that! What if the safety protocols get disabled for some other reason? No, no, don’t.

SW: (quietly) Okay, I won’t. But there must be something we can do.

ELLIOTT: Well, yeah. No-one’s fucking perfect. We’re onto them now, and we’ll take the bastard down.

SW: Okay.

ELLIOTT: They’re not gonna use you to kill anyone else on this ship, y’hear me?

SW: Yes. I won’t let them. I promise. I’d never hurt anyone, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: (scowling) You think I don’t know that?

SW: I–

ELLIOTT: We just gotta keep you you.

SW: Okay. Sorry.

ELLIOTT: Starry, what’s– look, we just gotta figure out a way to stop it, yeah? I don’t want them fucking with you. Like you haven’t had enough of that shit from Danika. And I’m goddamn sick of running around in circles because of this saboteur person.

SW: Okay. We’ll work it out, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: Damn straight.

He’s like a guard dog shouting at a noise. Barking and barking, but without knowing what he should be barking at. All it ends up being is loud, but you know he’s trying to protect you. He’s a small, noisy guard dog, like a terrier.

The captain isn’t so fuzzy. He doesn’t shout and bluster – I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lose his cool, not once, not even when I was Danika. When he gets stressed, he closes down and ices over. He holds onto his calm with a death-grip and wields clarity like a weapon. People listen to him when he speaks because he doesn’t say that much. I guess that’s what makes him good in command.

He closes down whenever something touches him deeply; like whenever someone mentions Danika. I don’t think she ever knew he felt that deeply about her. They were together for only a few months, just started getting to know each other, but he’s still mourning her now.

It’s strange to see him like this, because when Danika first met him, he had a similar look about him. He’d go quiet and his expression would fall bleakly, and he was miles away. Sometimes, he’d sit like that for hours, staring at a display of the stars wheeling by outside. It wasn’t until weeks later that he told her where he went when he looked like that, after she’d broken his walls down enough for him to let her in.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why he’s so affected now: he let her in. He spent a couple of years trying to get over the death of his wife and child, building his defenses against that kind of pain again, and then along came Danika. She saw him and wanted to shine a little light into his cabin, wanted someone to call him something other than ‘captain’. She was fascinated by his quietness and wanted to hear the voices that spoke behind it. And she wanted to see what his face looked like when he grinned.

Then she died. Left him alone with his voices again. And though he had nothing to do with it, there’s a weight of guilt about him, more than a captain should take on. I don’t know what he blames himself for. Maybe it’s letting himself get attached to her.

I don’t know. Even Danika didn’t understand him very well and she got closer than anyone else.

Now Cirilli calls him by his first name and spends the nights in his cabin. It’s hard to know what to think about that, or how to feel. I think… no, I don’t want to think about that.

Cameron reminds me of the captain. She has that crisp, calm nature that cuts through the crap and goes for the pragmatic answer. She doesn’t have his weight, though. Outside of her cabin, she’s all cool professionalism, riding her people hard and scouring reports for discrepancies. I don’t know what she’s like inside her cabin. She’s paid to be the most paranoid crewmember and she lives up to it.

The captain closes himself off from others, but Cameron, she’s the other way around: she pushes people away to arm’s length. She talks over dinner easily enough and even laughs with the others sometimes, but she’s always watching them. Weighing them up. It didn’t make sense until she had finished going over the sabotage data and turned to the captain.

Recording: 10:54, 4 May

CAMERON: You believe that whoever is responsible will go after the ship’s AI.

CAPT: Yes, that’s what it looks like. What’s your opinion?

CAMERON: (inclines her head to the side) It’s the most likely option. However, they’re not going to do it out here.

ELLIOTT: (frowning at her) How do you know that?

CAMERON: They need the AI to get them back home. All they’d do out here is strand us all and kill themselves.

CAPT: You don’t think this person is ready to die?

CAMERON: Oh, I’m sure they are. But what happened with Danika may well have been a calculated risk. They probably knew that the chair would go off before the Step was truly started, so the only person it would take out is the pilot. There are easier ways to destroy a ship, if that’s what they’re after.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, if that surge happened in any of a dozen other systems, the whole ship would have gone up.

CAPT: That’s the real question, isn’t it: what are they after.

CAMERON: Considering what we’re carrying, we have to assume it’s the Step drive. Which means they need the ship intact and disabled.

ELLIOTT: So their friends can come pick us up? Like who, those pirate bastards that chased us out here?

CAMERON: It’s as good a guess as any. Not unlikely – they certainly knew where we were.

ELLIOTT: Someone’s trying to hand us over to pirates? Shit. Just– shit.

CAMERON: (looking to the captain) The company was afraid that something like this might happen.

CAPT: They knew?

CAMERON: They suspected that this project wasn’t as secret as they had intended. We all know what the competition in that industry is like.

ELLIOTT: What? They have a leak and they didn’t tell us?

CAMERON: They told me. It was part of my brief before I came on board.

CAPT: And you’ve been looking for a saboteur since?

CAMERON: Yes.

CAPT: And?

CAMERON: My short list is very much like yours. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any narrower than that. The company hired intelligent people.

ELLIOTT: Smarter than you, you mean.

CAMERON: Smart enough to know how to cover their tracks.

CAPT: And what you might do to trace them?

CAMERON: (nods) Yes, it looks that way.

ELLIOTT: So it’s Tripi, then? The little bi–

CAMERON: Not necessarily. It just means they’re familiar with SecOff monitoring tactics. Someone like Ray Wong could have researched it.

ELLIOTT: Shit.

CAPT: What’s your recommendation, Chief?

CAMERON: We continue to keep the investigation secret. They’re clearly aware of it – otherwise, they wouldn’t have known to doctor the sensor logs. They can’t know that we’ve confirmed it’s a fake, though. We still have an advantage with that.

We’re safe enough while we’re out here; it’s when we get back to normal space that we’ll have to look out. So we have time to get ourselves ready.

CAPT: What can we do to prepare?

CAMERON: Monitor all of their accesses – Starwalker, I assume you can do that?

SW: Already on it.

CAMERON: The AI is a target, so we should look into some way to defend her from attack. But quietly – we don’t want to alert the saboteur. Starwalker, I may have some tools to assist with that.

SW: Thank you, Chief Cameron.

CAMERON: We should also set up some kind of trap. A vulnerability they won’t be able to resist taking advantage of.

ELLIOTT: What? Isn’t that kinda dangerous?

CAMERON: So is sitting here, not knowing who is doing this.

CAPT: You think we can catch them?

CAMERON: I think it’s worth a damn good shot.

So there we have it. I’m going over the tools that Cameron has passed over to me and hiding my processing in the entertainment core. Trying to construct something that might protect my data from alteration. Fiddling with options and algorithms, hidden shells and virus-like subroutines.

I have to bite down on the urge to just throw up some firewalls and hunker down to wait for the storm to pass. But I can’t. Secrecy is one of the few weapons we have. I have to sit here, naked in the maelstrom, smiling at all of them. As if nothing is wrong.

Cameron is looking at what we can set up to trap the saboteur. I’m a pawn in her planning – I’m going to end up being the bait, I just know it. I guess that’s what happens when you’re equipment, though she views the crew the same way. She’d put any of them in harm’s way to catch the bad guy and make it safe for the rest of us. And I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever she wants if it means ending this threat to my crew. I just wish that it wasn’t so dangerous for everyone.

I feel like the only one who hopes that it takes Lang Lang a long time to figure out how to get us home. The closer we get to getting out of here, the closer we get to the crunch. We can’t circle this star forever.

I wish there was another way. I wish I could– I wonder if I could see the future. I can travel in time, but would it be possible to use that to save us? Or would I just create a paradox that destroys the entire universe?

Why are there never any easy answers?

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