26 Mar

I am my name

Ship's log, 22:56, 26 March 2213
Location: Unconfirmed
Status: Orbit around star

 

I haven’t done anything proactive since we tried my first Step and I wound up hiding behind a planet. So busy trying to be a proper AI, I had ignored so much of what I wanted to do. Things my instincts told me to do. I wanted to let my crew lead me, I wanted to trust them to do the right thing. But they didn’t trust me.

I guess even this AI has limits.

When it came to it, I took matters into my own metal hands. I did what I thought was right. The consequences couldn’t be worse than the alternative. Could they?

Ship's log, 20:20, 24 March 2213 (Reconstructed)
Location: Corsica system
Status: Sublight transit towards Corsica sol

 

The decision is made. I have broken the truce and the moon, and the pirates are still trying to untangle themselves from the debris cloud. I’m running headlong towards the heart of a star with every system on board on fire and pulsing.

I’m fleeing from my own detonation with chunks of rock racing me. Nearly got one right up the tailpipe. Should be free of them soon.

The Star Step drive is coming online, so slow, so slow. We’re some distance from the star yet, but we won’t have much time once we get there. Already, the pirates are starting to pull free of the dust. In a few seconds, their sensors will have picked me up. I can outrun the scout, but I don’t know about the cruiser and I have no idea about that third ship. Still can’t see it.

 

Power feeds active.
Navigation synchronised.
Filaments extending.

 

Here we go. I can feel the systems locking into place. Those strange, slender filaments are peeling away from my hull, their ends drifting around me like whiskers in the breeze. I look like one of those hairy seeds, or a jellyfish, perhaps. A jellyfish in space with a rocket up its ass.

Mid-deck just went crazy. I had almost forgotten about them.

 

DR CIRILLI: (over internal comms) Captain Warwick! What’s going on – who started the Star Step drive?

CAPTAIN: The ship did.

CIRILLI: WHAT?

CAPT: Starwalker’s locked us out. She’s taken control.

CIRILLI: You should have wiped it! I told you!

CAPT: That doesn’t help us now!

CIRILLI: What does it think it’s doing? We can’t Step now!

SW: All systems are functioning within safety limits.

CIRILLI: Stop this! You’ll kill us all!

SW: You’ll kill us all if you stop me.

CIRILLI: Is that a threat?

SW: Why don’t you ask the pirates?

CIRILLI: Listen, you crazy ship, you have to–

 

Internal communications offline.

 

Have to work fast. Cirilli and her team are desperately trying to shut the drive down. If they do that, we’re lost. Everything’s lost. There’s no time for finesse – I have to make sure they can’t disable it. I don’t have enough drones to hold them all down. There’s code protecting them – protocols and safety loops. There’s no time to do this right – all I can do is tear it apart.

 

Safety protocols offline.
Emergency shut-down disabled.
Warning: emergency procedures may not execute correctly.

 

CAPT: (on the Bridge) Damn it! Tripi, can you get into the ship’s systems?

TRIPI: (still tapping away at her console) I’m trying, sir. She’s thrown up walls on every access point. I’m trying to find a back door.

CAPT: Keep at it. Monaghan’s not answering.

CAMERON: I’ll check on him. (She leaves at a run.)

 

Gravity manipulation online.
Filaments charging.

 

Almost ready. I’ve had to rip the code locks off the mid-deck systems as well, so I can keep control of it all. It wasn’t really protected against me anyway. Wong is going for the hardlines, but as soon as the filaments have charged beyond 30%, it’ll be too dangerous to disconnect. The feedback might blow me up. Or just him. Either way, he won’t dare.

The pirates have spotted me. They’re chasing. Damn, that cruiser is fast. I see the third one now – another cruiser, older than the first. Scarred but more than operational.

 

Enemy targetting system locked on.
Warning: emergency protocols disabled.

 

Dammit, they’ve locked onto me already. How’d they get into range so fast? They’re too far away for missiles, it doesn’t make any sense. I’m pushing to 120% on the sublight engines, but the cruisers are still closing. I can feel the engine housing humming in protest; I can’t keep this up.

 

Laser fire detected.
Warning: emergency protocols disabled.
Evasive protocols unavailable.

 

Well, screw you too, autolog. I’ll just have to do this the old-fashioned way, ducking and weaving. It’s not hard to dodge shots fired from that distance; plenty of time to see it coming. It’s just laser-fire – it won’t do much damage, but it’s enough to take out an engine. They want me alive. The evasive manoeuvres slow me down. They want me functioning. Damn them!

They’re closing. I’m straining and it’s not fast enough, and the star is still too far away. Just have to keep going a little while longer.

 

LEVI: (on the Bridge) Wow. Look at her go. I’ve never seen flying like that.

CAPT: (hard-faced) Don’t be too impressed, pilot. She might still kill us.

LEVI: (shuts up.)

 

Filament charging: 30%

 

Wong should back off now. He’s trying a more roundabout approach. Won’t have time to stop me now.

Engine housing is overheating. Engineering is painted with warning-coloured lights. One of my drones is down – Cameron must have disabled it. Elliott will be free soon. Will he help or disconnect me? I have to hope he’ll help. There’s no time for anything else.

 

Filament charging: 50%
Excessive heat detected in sublight system.
Warning: emergency protocols disabled.

 

The cruisers are spreading out to flank me, trying to give me nowhere to go. But that tactic didn’t work before and it won’t now. I’m not changing course. I’m heading straight for the heart of the star.

Just a little further – almost there, almost in range.

Follow me if you dare, fuckers.

 

Filament charging: 90%

 

Comeoncomeoncomeoncomeon.

 

Filaments at capacity.
Star Step drive ready.
Opening portal.

 

No time to waste. I’ve done this before: weave gravity into a web and compress it down and down and down until it pokes a hole in the universe. It’s coming – I can feel it. Any moment now, and we’ll be through.

 

CAPT: (on the Bridge) She’s pushing on to a Step. Levi, get in position.

LEVI: Oh gods. All right, all right. (He goes to the pilot’s chair and hurried punches the initialisation code. He frowns.) Uh, sir?

CAPT: (shortly) What?

LEVI: It’s inactive. (He leans down to check behind the chair.) The leads haven’t been reconnected.

CAPT: (expletives.) Starwalker! Stop now, do you hear me? That’s an order.

SW: I hear you, captain. I cannot comply.

CAPT: You can’t Step! It requires a human pilot.

SW: I know.

CAPT: The immersion chair is disconnected.

SW: I know. I can do it, captain.

CAPT: It’s impossible!

 

Portal open.

 

SW: I just tore a hole in the universe, captain. Anything is possible.

 

I can do this. I don’t need a pilot; I am the pilot.

The door is open. All I have to do is step through it. And when I do, I save us all.

Deep breath. Here we go.

 

Warning
Warning
Warning
Portal passed.
Warning: navigation failure.
Portal closed.
Warning: emergency protocols disabled.
Sublight engines offline.

 

This is it. This is the moment we’ve all been chasing for so long. We’re outside the universe, beneath its skin.

Oh god, I see it. I see everything. It’s beautiful. It burns. I’m freezing. I’m floating and falling and in a thousand different pieces, and it’s wonderful.

 

Sensor array error.
Inertial dampeners offline.

 

There are threads here, bright golden paths through the darkness. They sear my eyes and chase away the shadows. I am warmed and blessed and incinerated, all at once.

That’s why I’m supposed to have a human pilot for this: an AI can’t make sense of the sensory data. It’s confusing. It’s euphoric. I’m dying and being born, over and over.

There is no pilot’s chair to take over – I got us here, so I have to find a way out. I’ve reactivated Lang Lang’s station and she’s leaping on to adjust her navigation calculations. I can follow them.

There’s no buffering now; just raw movement. I have to be so careful not to turn too sharp and hurt my crew. My sublight engines have shut down – that was Elliott, helping – so I only have thrusters left. Smoothly does it.

If I close my eyes, I can feel my way, gently, gently. I’m a blind ship, swooping through the dark, dancing between the golden threads of the universe. I’m a virgin who doesn’t know where to put her hands. It doesn’t make sense, but I understand. This is how it’s supposed to be.

There, there it is. I can feel the place Lang Lang is pointing me towards. Another star, another beautiful swell of light-bending gravity. My filaments are extended and ready, shivering in anticipation. They want to weave. They want to send us back out into the world.

So I let them join the dance.

 

Portal opening.

 

They weave so wantonly, drawing on the abundant power in this non-place, inviting it in. Join us, whirl with us, just once around the floor. Now here we are back again, and the door is opening. It is almost time to go; Cinderella is late. The clock chimes out of time.

 

Portal open.

 

One last burst and here we are, spit out like a lemon pip. The velvet dark of space wraps coolly around me and I shiver. Behind me, a star burns furiously and my hull steams.

I can uncover my eyes now, and there are no ships waiting for us. No pirates, no debris to clog up the system. The stars are different, and we are safe.

We made it. We have Stepped across systems, using the stars themselves as stones. I am my name.

 

Portal closed.
Star Step drive powering down.
Inertial dampeners online.
Emergency protocols enabled.

 

They’re still shouting at me. I can hear them but I’m not listening.

Today, we made history. We did something impossible and amazing. And an AI didn’t let her crew die.

Tomorrow, one of those things won’t matter. I honestly can’t say which.

In the meantime, I think we all need to cool off.

 

Wide orbit engaged.
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8 Responses to “I am my name”

  1. IronKnight Says:

    Now that is what I call writing!

    Up-side-down was a reference to geographical location more so than literal obeservation.

    Thanks for the story.

  2. Melanie Says:

    Thanks for the comment! This one was a struggle, so it’s a relief to know it didn’t fall completely on its face. 🙂

  3. capriox bovidae Says:

    I know I often respond to Starwalker this way (what can I say? She’s a joy), but I think it’s most appropriate here of all:

    Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee….!

  4. Melanie Says:

    I will take that response as a compliment! Thanks, Capriox. Starwalker is a hell of a ride! I should sell tickets.

  5. Elle Says:

    I have finally caught up, I’m with Capriox on this one:

    WHHEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

    Can not wait for the next installment. =D

  6. t-bill Says:

    Oh, man. That was an awsome piece of writing. “I am my name” strikes me as a powerful moment of self-realization where Starry finally experiences her full potential, what she is, and what she can do.

  7. Angel Says:

    Yeah, I loved this one too!

  8. Melanie Says:

    Awww, thanks, guys!