29 Mar

Integrity

Ship's log, 19:57, 29 March 2213
Location: Grisette system (unverified)
Status: Wide orbit around Grisette sol (unverified)

Chief Engineer here, checking in again. Cirilli keeps asking me to do reports, so here I am, even though I have a list of repairs as long as my arm. Waste of time, if you ask me. What am I supposed to say? We Stepped, and now half the ship needs fixing.

Everyone else was so busy celebrating after we fell out of the portal into this system that they didn’t notice how much damage there was. They were patting themselves on the back, cheering and whooping. Even Cirilli was grinning. The captain didn’t share her expression – he, at least, managed to be professional about the whole thing. He asked me for a status report and I think my answer was ‘fucked up’. Then he encouraged the crew to party it up, which I don’t get at all. Hello? We just had a narrow escape from goddamned pirates, blew up half a moon, and ran through a hole in the universe. We should have crashed and died. If I don’t get everything fixed up before someone else gets a bright idea, we still might. But no, you guys crack open the pseudalcohol and party it up; don’t worry about a thing.

Starry really pulled out all the stops to get us here. The housing on the starboard wing engine is cracked and I had to replace a whole slew of feeds to all of the sublight engines. She nearly burned her own ass off, getting us out of there. We outran two cruisers in the process, which she’s really not designed to do. There’s a reason why people call cruisers ‘space sharks’; they’re fast bastards and they bite hard. If those missiles hadn’t given us a head start, we never would have made it.

A couple of thrusters were damaged by debris, one smashed almost right off the ship, but they’re fixed now. I had to go outside to do those, and let me tell you, it was a relief to get out of this damned ship. If you don’t look out into the void too deeply, the quiet space and stillness makes a nice change to the rattling tincan we live in. Don’t get me wrong – I’d rather live on a ship than anywhere else, but that doesn’t mean a change isn’t nice every now and then. It’s not like I’d ever choose to live on the hull in a pressurised suit or anything. If nothing else, I like to be able to scratch my itches.

The drones were outside, too. They were the first thing we got fixed up, once the initial damage reports were done. Cameron had disabled them with a wrench (she’s Security – subtlety is not usually part of the job description). It was actually kinda scary: she went all Red Sonja on them and nearly got a bit of drone in my eye when it broke apart. The other drones gathered to put them back together, and now the big two are banished to the outer hull. I can’t say I’m sorry. Still can’t believe she used them to hold me down. Starry has apologised but, well.

Anyway. Starry caught a laser or two on her belly, and debris scored marks across her hull. A couple of places have had to be shored up to maintain hull integrity, and the heavier drones are pootling around outside, making repairs. It’ll be a few days before they’re done stitching it all back together.

The heat shielding is compromised, too, thanks to the scores through the shielding paint. Not much we can do about that until the hull reknit is finished, but we should have enough spare paint to patch it up. There’s no danger of overheating at this distance from the star, but I wouldn’t want to be much closer for any length of time.

That heat shielding might have been part of what saved us, you know. We have to be really close to the star to open a portal, and I’ll bet the pirates didn’t want to follow us in. That paint’s expensive and it’s clear that they’d rather spend their money on fucking big guns than on heat protection. Fat lot of use those guns were to them when they were chasing us, huh?

Of the rest of the ship, everything seems to be all right. A few blow-outs on mid-deck, mostly because Starry disabled all the safety protocols, but they’re Wong’s problem. Nothing part of the central systems – nothing for me to worry about. Not that he’d want me up there if it was. He’s so precious about his Stepper, like I’d want to copy the design or something. Or weld something backwards. Weld something to the back of his head, more like.

It’s actually been really quiet down here. Usually, with this much damage, I’d have someone down here, bitching at me about how long it’s all taking. Hey, if you want me to put the hull back together without breaching any of the pressure seals or boiling us all alive, it takes the time it takes. Same goes for a lot of the main systems.

But no-one’s done that. The captain checks in every now and then for my usual monosyllabic status report, but otherwise, they’ve left me alone. Can’t say I’m complaining about that. If it didn’t mean that the attention was focussed elsewhere, it’d be a good thing. Well, it still might be good, except that they’re all leaning on Lang Lang. She’s the only one of the whitecoats I don’t mind having around – she doesn’t think she’s above everyone else like the others do. She just does her thing and lets everyone else get on with theirs.

I hear there’s a fuckup with the star charts. They’re having a problem with pinpointing our exact location. I don’t know the details; it’s not my problem, and hell knows that I’ve got enough of my own. As our navigation specialist, Lang Lang is supposed to be the answer to all of our astro-graphical issues, so she’s the one getting the heat. I actually saw her frown over dinner yesterday – in an unhappy way, not a thoughtful way.

Well, nothing I can do there. I might as well enjoy the break.

The captain hasn’t left me completely alone. I suppose I should mention that. He come down with a request yesterday, late in the evening when most of the crew were asleep. He asked me to put the privacy lock on our conversation and asked me if I could prevent Starry from taking over the ship again. I know he has Tripi working on her innards, trying to break through some codewalls she’s got up, even though she unlocked everything once the step was done.

It’s the safety protocols. That part freaked him out the most, knowing there were no safeguards. Never mind that no-one was hurt; it’s the principle of the thing. Could we make her unable to disable? Why were they disable-able (is that a word?) in the first place? Well, sometimes they malfunction. Sometimes the sensors might pick up a whiff of a scent, detect a poison and vent all the air in a section out into space. Meanwhile, the trapped squishies suffocate and die. It’s happened before. An error in a temperature sensor could make the emergency systems ‘stabilise’ things into an oven, or freeze-dry everyone. We have to have checks, or we’re in just as much danger from a system fault as we are from a vindictive or careless AI.

And, as I pointed out, she’s neither of those things. I watched her through the Step, and Starry was anything but cruel or careless. The IDs went offline because the sensors had no way to balance them against our manoeuvres, and so we felt every accelleration and decelleration, every turn and swoop. It was hairy in a couple of places, but when you compare human tolerances (especially unharnessed humans) to the ship’s capabilities, there’s a really small margin to work in. She went to pains to avoid hurting us.

The cap just stared at me. I told him that locking down emergency protocols had killed entire crews and there are good reasons why it’s not standard practice. I wasn’t happy with them being disabled either, but that doesn’t mean I want something worse.

If she had done it to keep herself safe, she would never have released the controls, would she? I could shut her down with just a few flicks on my console. Tripi is back inside now, and she could do it too. Hell, even the captain’s master override command would work.

The cap asked if I could set it up so that Starry couldn’t lock us out again. Put in an emergency shutdown on her. I don’t like that idea. I don’t want a killswitch in my ship. I certainly don’t like thinking about whose hands might be on it – if I give it to the captain, I know who’ll have access to it in his quarters. And I really don’t like that bitch, especially anywhere near Starry.

The question wasn’t whether I liked it or not, I was informed: the question was could I do it. Could I make a killswitch that Starry couldn’t circumvent? Yeah, of course. I can rig most anything, given the parts. Hell, I’ll make my own if I have to …but I’d really prefer not to.

I should have said no. Couldn’t do it. Not possible. No way in the galaxy – AIs just aren’t made that way. I should have lied.

Now I have an order. A nailed-down goddamn order from my captain to make this thing. And I don’t want to. I want to tell him where to shove it. Which means I’ll get replaced the next time we hit a major docking station.

Fuck. What am I gonna do? What am I gonna tell Starry?

I dunno yet, but I’m gonna have to figure something out soon. For now, the latest hull integrity reports are in from the drones. Better keep busy.

Engineer out.

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4 Responses to “Integrity”

  1. Angel Says:

    He’ll figure some way not to build the thing. Can’t have Starry shut down whenever the captain wants.

  2. David Says:

    This was worth the wait!

  3. Melanie Says:

    Angel – I have a couple of options in mind, not sure which way he’ll jump yet. Either way should be fun!

    David – thank you! I hate not meeting my targets/deadlines, and desperately didn’t want it to come out rushed. I’m happy you think it was worth it!

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