23 Nov

Home planet

Ship's log, 18:02, 7 March 2214
Location: Transit Lane 42-N7, Home system
Status: Sublight transit

 

I thought Earth would be prettier than this.

Danika has been here before, and she’s seen it from a pilot’s perspective. Mostly, that means that she noticed the traffic: lots of it, barely contained within navigation lanes, moving slowly as it shuffles to and from ranked orbits. Ships of all shapes, sizes and purposes.

It’s like a living, breathing version of the junkpile at Feras. Schools of ships move like glinting fish, heeding invisible commands to stay safely grouped and heading in the same direction. This is how ships are supposed to be, busy with purpose and places to go.

Earth’s blue-green ball is obscured by the cloud of satellites and debris in her orbit. Debris clutters the space between the lanes, with scoopers busy gathering it together to be picked up in never-ending loops. Slow-moving trawlers pick over the refuse, creating clean lines through the mess in their wake and trying to at least keep the landing and launching corridors clear. Even with that help, the planet is hard to make out from here.

The vacuum here is thick with transmissions, choked so full that it can be difficult to get a clear channel. I can listen in on the chatter of a hundred conversations, some of them gibberish with encryption. It’s not just ships talking to each other or communications with the surface; there’s a lot of planetside data being bounced off satellites, muddying up the water. On top of that, radio broadcasts leak out from the planet, too, old technology still stubbornly being used and polluting the system.

I had expected more from the home planet of the human race. This is where Danika’s bloodline started. This is where my makers started. Both halves of me have a history here; I feel like I should feel something for this place. Fondness, reverence. Attachment. Those emotions are hovering just out of reach. Perhaps they’ll resolve when I can get a clear view of the planet; right now, it’s all too much like a transmission that’s out of focus.

In the meantime, I can spend my time weaving through the traffic. Technically, we’re supposed to set a steady course for our designated Earth orbit, to await our allotted landing time, but where’s the harm if I make the trip interesting? Swooping around a cargo hauler’s train of pods and diving between a transport and a courier isn’t hurting anyone.

I wonder if anyone in there might be shaking a fist at me. I wonder how hard it would be to construct an external holographic projection of me shaking a fist back…

Holographic projections. That reminds me of what Elliott said: I should use my avatar more. I’m here all the time but he said the crew missed me. I hadn’t realised how much I had been avoiding the avatar. Hiding. Trying to be a better AI by being more like a proper AI, perhaps? I don’t know.

Anyway, I will use it again, and not just because Elliott told me that the crew missed it, but… because I want to.

Maybe Dr Socks can explain all of this to me. He’s good at that stuff. Why I stopped using the avatar; why I want to again. Maybe he can tell me why it feels like… like a part of me is still hugging Elliott.

It sounds so strange when I put it into words, into data committed to a log and saved deep in my filestores. Hugging. That particular memory file is warm, and my files don’t tend to have a temperature. What does that mean?

I haven’t dared to ask Elliott. I don’t know what he’d say, what he might read into it. I’m not sure what I want to read into it.

Danika’s memories have temperatures. They are tainted with emotion, thick with scents and music, and sometimes laden with meaning. Am I capable of creating such things? Is that what this is?

I’m not even entirely sure why I asked him for the hug. Danika wasn’t that kind of tactile person, not since she was a kid, but I remember how she loved hugs when she was little. They smelled of ozone and hot plastic, made of crumpled shipsuits and scratchy stubble against her cheek. She liked it best when they swept her up off the decking.

That last part stayed with her when she grew up: she likes to be swept off her feet but that wasn’t about hugging and it wasn’t her father’s arms she was throwing herself into. That was more complicated, but this… it was simple, and easy, and good.

So many times, I’ve wished for the feel of someone’s arms around me. Which is weird, because I’m a ship and they can’t.

Ships are supposed to be self-reliant, self-contained. They don’t have arms or a body capable of being held, and they can’t relax into the support of another being. The best I can do is to switch off my engines and lean on physics, or dock with something bigger than me and disable myself, and I don’t like doing any of that. It’s not at all the same.

It’s like the avatar remembers a different body. I thought that didn’t matter – couldn’t matter. But I could feel it when Elliott touched my avatar’s hand, when he nudged my shoulder. I remembered what it felt like to be connected to someone else. And I had to know what it was like to be held.

Lately, I’ve been unsure about so much, cutting ties with my company and hiding from everyone, but at that moment I felt safe and whole. For the first time since I woke up, I could lean into someone else. I didn’t have to stand on my own, didn’t have to hold my weight up alone, and I was warm all the way through. I could rest, even though my systems were still running.

Elliott’s avatar smells of engine oil and metal. I wonder if he knows that or if it’s automatic on his part.

When he disconnected from my systems, he was very quiet. He sat up and frowned thoughtfully at the decking between his feet for six seconds. Then he touched his cheek – where I kissed him – and huffed and shoved himself off the chair. Two minutes and fourteen seconds later, he was back on the Bridge, ready to get back to work.

I’ve gone over that sensor log of him disconnecting a few times. I don’t know what it means. Did I make things complicated?

Byte isn’t helping. He hasn’t been far from my engineer since he was brought back online, and last night he decided to draw on Elliott. While he was asleep.

 

Recording: 07:43, 7 March 2214

ELLIOTT: (gathering up his toolbelt from a counter in Engineering with one hand and scratching the back of his head with the other.)

BYTE: (scampers up over the lip of the counter and crouches down there, head tilted up to watch the engineer. The fingers of all four hands lace together.)

ELLIOTT: (yawns widely and shakes his shoulders, still shaking off sleep. He blinks a few times, then catches sight of his reflection on a scrap of bright metal. He snatches up the metal and tilts it to get a better look, scowling.)

(On his cheek, drawn in neat black lines, is the outline of a pair of lips. Right where avatar lips met avatar cheek. Elliott peers in to be sure, a bewildered expression drifting over his face.)

BYTE: (gives a little happy hop, then does a complicated dance. Tiny feet tick against the counter-top: he shuffles right, shuffles left, spins. Then he bows, hands spreading in a ta-da gesture. His head tilts again as he looks up at the human.)

ELLIOTT: (face crumpling down into a furious scowl) You did this, you little shit?

BYTE: (nods proudly and holds a thumb up.)

ELLIOTT: What the fuck – you drew on me? (He starts rubbing at the mark on his cheek.) What the hell! STARRY!

BYTE: (skitters to the side, eyeing the edge of the counter as if checking for an escape route.)

STARRY: Yes, Elli– oooh.

ELLIOTT: Your fucking drone just–!

STARRY: …so I see.

ELLIOTT: (checking his reflection and rubbing at the mark again) It’s not coming off!

STARRY: Scans indicate that he used his indelible marker.

ELLIOTT: YOU LITTLE SHIT, COME HERE.

BYTE: (leaps off the counter and makes all speed for the nearest vent, legs blurring.)

ELLIOTT: (going after Byte) I am going to rip that marker off and shove it up your–

STARRY: (activating her avatar, appearing behind Elliott as he dives after the drone) I think it was a joke, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: I don’t care! Hey, c’mere! (He throws himself forward and skids across the Engineering deck on his stomach. His hand closes around the drone just in front of the vent as he slides to a stop.) Got you, you tiny fucker.

BYTE: (widens his visual apertures and looks up at the engineer.)

ELLIOTT: (shoves himself back to his feet with his free hand) So, you think this is funny, do you?

BYTE: (points at Elliott’s cheek and bobs his head up and down.)

STARRY: (trying hard not to smile.)

ELLIOTT: (shakes the drone angrily.)

BYTE: (rattles.)

STARRY: (controlling her expression with great care) Waldo is on his way with a remover.

ELLIOTT: Great, another fucking drone.

STARRY: If you’d rather go to the doc…

ELLIOTT: (turns his scowl on the ship’s avatar) No, that’s fine. I suppose you think this is hilarious as well.

STARRY: Not until you entered into the human-drone olympics. You can move pretty fast when you want to.

ELLIOTT: Shut up.

STARRY: You can! That dive was impressive.

ELLIOTT: (stamps across to the counter again, turning his back to the avatar so she won’t see the corners of his mouth twitch) Shut up. Can’t you keep your drones under control?

STARRY: (sternly) Byte, no drawing on the crew, please.

BYTE: (stretches his neck to peer at Starry around Elliott’s shoulder and nods solemnly.)

WALDO: (trundles in purposefully and holds out a moist cloth towards Elliott.)

ELLIOTT: (looks at the newcomer) You can shut up, too.

Byte spent the next hour and a half locked inside a toolbox. I felt like I should complain but he did deserve it. He tried to be extra-helpful to Elliott for the rest of the day, which meant that he got shouted at a lot, but they both seemed to enjoy it anyway.

Elliott hasn’t said anything to me about the hug or the kiss or anything. There was just that one moment when he touched his cheek; after that, nothing. He’s pretending that nothing happened and… actually, I’m okay with that. I like that we can carry on and do what we need to, and push past any weirdness that might rise up between us. I like that we can hug and the world doesn’t end.

In the meantime, I’m getting closer and closer to the home planet. I’m still waiting to be assigned a landing slot.

This will be my first time flying in an atmosphere. I’ll have to deal with air pressure and flow outside my hull as well as inside. I’ll have to try not to hit any birds! I can get wet in clouds and dry in sunlight, and I’ll be landing on water. It’ll be like a waterbed! (Danika wasn’t a fan of waterbeds but it sounds like fun to me; I have better thrust control than she did.)

More importantly, here, we’ll heal what’s wrong with us. My crew and I will get the parts we need and we’ll set things in motion so we can be free. I can’t wait. It’ll be hours before we even reach orbit at this rate and I don’t want to have to wait in line.

Patience, Starry. We’ll be there soon!

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5 Responses to “Home planet”

  1. Blik Says:

    Hooray for Byte and Starry’s subconscious! 😀

    I hope that things will soon be in working order as far as the status of the ship and crew are. Perhaps a few discreet sponsors would be in order…?

  2. mjkj Says:

    Awww *hugs Starry* 🙂

    She seems to need some more hugs…

    I hope she will be all right.

    mjkj

  3. Benjamin B. Says:

    I honestly laughed out loud for this one. Byte must’ve been pretty darned happy about that kiss in order to plant the evidence of it in the physical world 😀

  4. Melanie Says:

    Yay! It makes me happy when I can make my readers laugh. Or hug. Or cry. Laughing is always good! And the drones are so handy for that – and yes, Byte was happy about that kiss! He wasn’t going to let Elliott forget about it. 😉

    Thanks for the feedback, guys! Just finished lining up tomorrow’s post; it should go up a little earlier than usual. Enjoy!

  5. mjkj Says:

    Yayyy for early updates 😀

    *hugs*

    mjkj