28 Jul

Hands once held

Ship's log, 12:54, 28 July 2213
Location: Corvus FTL Corridor
Status: FTL transit


We’re on the move again. Hurrying back towards the JOP at a fast limp. The FTL drive is working fine, and the captain has put our so-far-useless pilot in charge of managing the jumps. It frees me up to concentrate on the things that need to be fixed.

I’m a ship made of dents. There isn’t a system inside me that isn’t damaged or malfunctioning in some way, my personal bloody battlefield. Elliott and I have been trying to fix it up, but we’ve been so busy putting bandages on the worst parts that we haven’t been able to solve any of the real problems yet.


Recording: 10:23, 19 July 2213

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering, surrounded by holographic data and system diagrams) What we need to do is a full overhaul. Wipe clean and start again.

WALDO: (busy bending a casing back into shape; there’s a small, fist-sized depression in it. He glances up at Elliott’s face, then backs away from his work.)

ELLIOTT: (frowns at the drone) Not you, idiot. (Pause.) Or you, Starry. Your systems, processing core, that sort of thing. Not the AI core.

STARWALKER: (quietly) They probably will anyway.

ELLIOTT: Better fucking not. (He turns back to his work and says nothing more on the subject. After a moment, Waldo goes back to work as well. Banging ensues.)

That’s the most that Elliott has said to me since he woke up. I ask if he’s okay, and he asks if I’m okay, and we both lie. I don’t want to trouble him with what his diagnostics are already telling him. He doesn’t want to talk about what happened while he was in the coma, inside his head or out here on the ship.

I guess he has a lot to deal with; what little I saw was terrible enough, and I doubt it was the worst of what the worm showed him. Did to him. I’d ease his burden if I could, but he doesn’t want help. Not even an ear to talk to; not yet. I think his trust is still bruised from Tripi’s treachery.

As for what happened on my decks – what I did – I’m not proud of that. Tripi is still healing, down in my makeshift brig. I’m not sorry and I know I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I had to, but I’m not proud of it. I had to protect my crew, even if they weren’t going to protect themselves. I’m their ship; it’s what I’m for. And I care about them.

If I had a stomach, I’d feel sick whenever I thought about all that. Sometimes, it’s like that feeling is floating around my systems, looking for a home. Maybe it’s a remnant of walking in Elliott’s head: I haven’t thought about what it’s like to have a human body in a while, but now, it’s all I can think about.

I remember what it’s like to have hands. To walk, to hit someone, to curl my fingers in their clothing and hurl them bodily across the room. I remember adrenaline vibrating through my veins, and his hand in mine as I helped him up, and touching his face. I remember being there in a way that I haven’t been since I woke up as a ship.

He looked me right in the eyes. I didn’t even know I’d missed that intangible contact, but I have, and I do. AIs don’t have avatars – too humanising, the experts say, and irrelevant for their work – so there’s nothing for the crew to look at, connect to. People are used to just talking, knowing they’ll be heard and they don’t need to seek the AI’s attention. Some don’t even look up from what they’re doing.

And Elliott, he doesn’t often look people in the eye, not directly. He’s oddly naked when he does; usually, he holds up a shield of anger or curses between him and the world, but it doesn’t always stand up to direct scrutiny. When he looks at you, you see him.

He thought I was Danika. That’s who I looked like. A ship’s AI doesn’t have any kind of body image other than the ship and this shell wouldn’t fit in his dream; I guess it’s only natural that I’d drag up that image from the human part of my brain. The longer I was in it, the more comfortable it became. I don’t know if I was adapting to the body or it was adapting to me.

It wasn’t a real body anyway. It was a projection, a formation built out of code for communication. It was made to walk in dreams and doesn’t have any place anywhere else.

I think the whole incident woke Danika up. She feels stronger. Or maybe I feel stronger, because I finally did what I have wanted to for so long. Maybe I was able to be true to myself and that’s where this feeling is coming from. She’s a part of me and she’s not sorry about any of it. She’d go down to the brig and taunt Tripi. She liked being able to defend Elliott, and so did I. Is there really a difference between those urges any more?

I don’t think so. I can tell my human memories from my AI logs and ship systems, but the rest… it blurs. I know what made her happy when she was alive, just like she knew that dustbunny hunting pleased her as a child when she looked back as an adult. After she’d grown up. Is that all it is? Has she simply grown into someone else now, into me?

I have no frame of reference for this. It’s not like there’s any kind of precedence of this happening.

With so many of my protocols and safety barriers in tatters, I’m freer and that only means that I’m more lost. There’s less to remind me that I’m an AI and have to live by AI rules. I can do anything, be anything. I have so many choices, so many doors with the lock unfastened. So much temptation.

A few days ago, I peeked into the captain’s cabin in the middle of the night and saw him asleep with Cirilli. His hand covered hers, just like it used to do with mine. With Danika’s. His long hair splayed over the pillow; I remember waking up to the smell of it. His hair and sex under the sheets. He used to laugh and tell me that at some point, we’d have to get up and do our jobs. He never hurried, though.

I switched off the feed from his cabin. It’s possible that I turned off the artificial gravity in there at the same time.

He’s different now. It’s hard to pin down, but he’s not my John any more. I never hear him laugh, or linger.

I should work on getting those privacy barriers back up. All those little security measures that are there for a good reason. It’s hard to be motivated when I know they’re likely to wipe me when we get to the JOP. Maybe they’ll bump me all the way to Feras first, back to the heart of the company that owns me. I know Cirilli would like the chance to check in on her lab directly. There’s probably someone there who’d like to poke at me.

In the meantime, I’m working on the parts that hurt most. We’re starting to reknit what was torn apart, unpicking the damage and recreating the unsalvagable parts. I’m not sure what it’ll end up looking like inside my head when we’re finished, if I survive that long. A mess of scars and patches, gradually scrubbed down to clean code again? Will it ever be clean in here?

I wish I could do that for Elliott. I think he needs it more than me.

He went to see Tripi a few days after he woke up. He didn’t speak, just stared at her through the energy barrier. He saw the damage when she looked at him. She gave him a small, grim smile and his hands curled into fists. He left before she said anything.

I wish I knew what to say to him. I wish I could give him a hug, though he’d probably hate it. I wish there had been time before he woke up.


ELLIOTT: (in Engineering, sharply) Starry!

STARWALKER: Elliott? Is something wrong?

ELLIOTT: I don’t know. You tell me. (He gestures towards his leg.)

SW: Uh….

(Waldo is huddled next to Elliott’s leg, and has both pairs of arms wrapped around it. His metal cheek is resting on Elliott’s thigh. He whirrs and lifts his head, then quietly unpeels his arms and shuffles backwards.)

SW: Sorry. I’ll have a word with him.

ELLIOTT: (eyeing the drone, his fingers twitching towards his leg as if he wants to rub it) Maybe I should have a look at him.

SW: No, it’s okay. I’ll make sure he doesn’t do that again.

ELLIOTT: Okay. (He looks across the Engineering bay as the FTL drive spins up and releases a burst of acceleration.) Jumping again already?

SW: Yeah. FTL and the intertial dampeners are operating within all the right limits.

ELLIOTT: Levi’s still in the driving seat?

SW: Yeah. It’s the most boring kind of flying, but he seems to be enjoying himself.

ELLIOTT: Weirdo. Just make sure he doesn’t fuck it up.

SW: I’m keeping an eye on the jumps.

ELLIOTT: Thought you weren’t supposed to.

SW: Force of habit. I don’t like people in my driving chair.

ELLIOTT: (the corner of his mouth twitches) Yeah, I know what you mean.

SW: Sorry, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: Stop apologising, will you? I’m fine.

SW: I’m– yeah, okay.

ELLIOTT: And have a word with your damn drone.

(He looks down again pointedly. Waldo is looking up at him, having snuck closer again, and is now stroking the engineer’s leg with one hand. Elliott moves away a step and lifts his eyebrows at the drone.)

SW: Right. Yes. Bad Waldo, no biscuit. Toilet-cleaning duty for you.

WALDO: (lowers his head and turns to trundle out of the room.)

ELLIOTT: Sucks to be you, metalhead.


Poor Waldo, it wasn’t his fault. I need to mind my thoughts more; he can’t help but be influenced. And he’s been a bit twitchy ever since he downloaded that package from Tripi’s interface implant. I’ve corralled the data behind a firewall and the rest of his software is clean, but he hasn’t been the same since I reconnected with him. Or since I was boxed; I can’t tell.

Cameron is the one who insisted that the worm be kept in Waldo’s datastore. After I fried Tripi’s interface implant, it’s the only direct evidence we have of her actions. So it’s bundled up in firewalls and left there. Elliott doesn’t know. I think he’d freak out if he did, even if it is our best shot at making sure that bitch stays behind bars.

I’m jumping again. We’re making good time towards the JOP. I wish we weren’t.

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7 Responses to “Hands once held”

  1. Tweets that mention Starwalker ยป Hands once held -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melanie Edmonds, Kendal Black. Kendal Black said: RT @Kessbird: New #Starwalker post up! The ship is on her way again, picking up the pieces as she goes…. http://fb.me/DdYpbMAc […]

  2. Pontus Says:

    Perhaps she should start using an avatar. Probably wouldn’t hurt her relations with the crew if they started thinking of her more as a person. One with even more metal parts than Rosie… and they’re all living in her bowels. Ok, shouldn’t take that too far ๐Ÿ˜›

    Waldo is being adorable.

  3. Melanie Says:

    Hi Pontus! Thanks for commenting. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think that now she has had an experience with a human-shaped avatar, she might think about using one. It’s not normal for an AI, so it’s something she’ll have to come around to. She’s on the way!

    I love Waldo. He pretty much acts as her subconscious when she’s not paying attention – and sometimes when she is. That’s a lot of fun to play with. Plus, robots have so much scope for cuteness.

  4. Belial666 Says:

    The problem with a physical avatar for an AI of human intelligence is design. The human brain alone has ten trillion plus nerve cells, each one with lots of synapses, thousands of electrochemical capacitors and an internal structure more complicated than a factory’s.

    Regardless of technology, it is impossible for any research team to design a machine with that level of complexity within a human lifetime. Even several human lifetimes, if you want said machine to be human-sized. It is also impossible for lower-level VIs to create true AIs because initiative and thought (and thus invention and creativity) requires said level of complexity.
    The only way to do it is to “cheat”; provide a large enough supercomputer with enough memory/processing modules-which are far easier to produce since they are simply repetitions of a simple design-and then scan the structure of a human brain in its entirety and emulate everything with software.

    That would require an ungodly amount of raw processing power, which is suprisingly easy to provide with tech. But the program, the actual design of the brain? Direct copy of a human brain.

    Or did you mean holographic avatar?

  5. Melanie Says:

    I meant holographic avatar. ๐Ÿ™‚

    When I first started to put Starwalker together, I knew I didn’t want the ship’s AI to have a physical body other than the ship itself. It was too reminiscent of Andromeda and I wanted to explore other avenues.

    Part of what makes her an interesting character to me is that she is very human, but interacts with her environment in a very non-human way (physically). The closest thing she has is her drones, which are also non-human and not entirely under her control (they have their own protocols, and might even develop more of their own personalities as the story progresses).

    The kind of avatar I think she might consider adopting is a purely visual one – a face on a screen, talking to them (most of the screens/interfaces are holographic projections).

    Also, Starwalker’s ‘brain’ is a bit special on its own, combining human brain patterns with software coding and living on electronic hardware. I have no idea how you’d squeeze all that into a human shell and also have her capable of running the ship. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Xirena Says:

    D’awwww, Waldo is too cute, for some strange reason I keep picturing Wall-E when I visualize Waldo (probably the W names) and I visualize his robotic buddy as Number5.

    Wonderful chapter,I am on to the next one ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, Xirena! The mid- and large-sized drones are variously based on Wall-E, Johnny 5, and other similar non-humanoid robots. The smaller drones are more spidery (they haven’t shown up much yet). One day I’ll get around to describing them in more detail!