17 Aug

Last resort

Ship's log, 08:47, 19 February 2214
Location: Junkpile, Lambda 1 system
Status: Stationary

 

I’ve been sitting here for days, waiting and watching, like a flea hungry for blood. But the damned dog hasn’t come back yet.

Things with the crew have been getting more fractious. Accusations have been thrown around like popcorn, but are any of us to blame, or completely blameless?

 

Recording: 12:15, 15 February 2214

ELLIOTT: (in the Mess Hall, throwing his favourite toolbelt down on a table) You were right, Starry. I should never have changed that ident.

ROSIE: (looks up at the clatter) Yeah, thanks Monaghan, we could be relaxin’ on Feras right now. At a bar.

CAMERON: (entering) You would’ve preferred to discover the Judiciary’s presence after docking?

ELLIOTT: (flops down into a chair.)

ROSIE: They wouldn’t know it was us. Would they?

CAMERON: (shrugs and pours herself a drink at the counter) It depends how closely they’re looking at Feras’s traffic. The only thing that we can be sure of is that it would have been a lot harder to get away.

LANG LANG: (hesitantly, looking from one face to the other) But we have done nothing wrong. Why is everyone so upset about us being here?

ELLIOTT: (snappishly) Because this project is illegal.

CIRILLI: We’re all culpable. We knew that when we left the JOP the last time.

LANG LANG: (nods glumly.)

CAMERON: And we don’t know what Tripi may have told them. Clearly, it was enough for the Judiciary to launch an investigation into Is-Tech.

ROSIE: You really think it’s that serious? For Is-Tech?

CAMERON: (tilts her head and slides into a seat) If their financial position is as tenuous as the rumours say, then a scandal could tip them over the edge. The cost of being caught up in a legal battle alone….

LANG LANG: What about the records? They can’t hide those from the Judiciary, can they?

EBLING: (crossing his ankles on a chair) Inside Feras, they can do whatever the hell they like.

LANG LANG: (looks confused.)

CIRILLI: (to Lang Lang) They can unhook the project’s filestore from the colony’s systems and bury it someplace the Justiciars won’t look.

EBLING: Along with any other project they don’t want the Judiciary to know about.

LANG LANG: Oh.

EBLING: They’ve probably dismantled the lab as well by now.

LANG LANG: (dismayed) The lab?

CAMERON: (nodding) If they’ve had enough time, they’ve most likely removed our employment records as well.

EBLING: Unless they’ve labelled us rogues.

ELLIOTT: (sits up straighter) What the fuck?

ROSIE: (expression darkening) Claim we’d been bought out by a rival? Just because it’s what you would do.

EBLING: It’d be a good defense for them.

ELLIOTT: Fuck!

LANG LANG: But to do that, they’d have to admit that there was a project…

CAMERON: (nods over the rim of her cup) Layers of defence, Lang Lang. If one fails, they have to have another story set up. It depends how far the Judiciary manages to dig.

LANG LANG: (blinks) Wow.

CAMERON: They haven’t turned us away entirely, and our discovery is the worst thing that could happen for Is-Tech. Our best course right now is to stay where we are and see how this plays out.

So we’ve stayed exactly where we are, inside a wrecked cargo ship waiting for the Telltale Heart‘s return. If I had fingernails, they’d be chewed to stubs by now.

Unlike my crew, I don’t sleep. My ‘brain’ doesn’t switch off, and there’s only so much processing that my essential systems can take up. I ran diagnostics until Elliott asked me if I’d detected an anomaly. I told him I was bored; it was better than the truth.

To keep my processors busy, I keep running through scenarios. Trying to work out our options. It’s not easy: there are a lot of variables that I have to fill in. I don’t know what Is-Tech might be telling the Judiciary right now. I don’t know if the law is really looking for me or just signs of the project that spawned the drive in my mid-deck. The company might still send me help, or supplies, or fresh crew, or guidance, or new orders….

Let’s assume none of that. Let’s say that the courier ship never comes back and I have nothing from Is-Tech other than a door slammed in my face. What are our options?

Loss and gain: that’s what it’s truly about. Is the benefit worth the cost? I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t look at all of the options open to us.

Would it really be so bad if we gave ourselves up?

If we did that, everyone would be in trouble. Cirilli was right about that much: the crew might have had deniability before the JOP, but they all agreed to continue with the project after they knew it was illegal. We couldn’t hide it, not with what’s recorded in my logs. They might get some leniency if we surrendered, but they’d still pay a price, and the Judiciary isn’t known for its gentle punishments.

I’d be in trouble along with everyone else, but in a different way. I wouldn’t be okay; probably wouldn’t even be a ship any more. Powered down, dismantled, possibly transported to a lab for analysis.

Those possibilities scare me, but not as much as I thought they would. I’d give myself up if it meant that my crew would be all right. I’m just a machine, a tool. Collateral. I come last and I’m okay with that; it’s what I am.

The crew is what matters. The crew, the project, the company who are my masters. I still have fragments of code that enforce those priorities, deep within my protocols. I could probably weed them out but I don’t want to. They’re my purpose. Without them, how am I supposed to know what to do? It’s hard enough even with those controlling parameters.

Crew, project, company.

It’s interesting that the project comes before the company. I wonder who programmed it that way around; surely it should be the company first? That way, I could rip out the Star Step drive and my logs, and pretend it never existed. Or let my crew off somewhere and destroy myself. But the project comes first, so I have to preserve it.

And life above all else. Standard AI protocols, preserving the people aboard ahead of everything else. It prevents logical breakdowns from deeming the crew expendable in the face of other priorities. Too many lessons learnt the hard way in that realm.

So where does that leave us? Still staring down the barrel of the choices we discussed before we came here. We ended up here for a reason and that hasn’t gone away. This was our best chance; our brightest hope of finding help. Now what do we have?

Damn them. Damn Is-Tech. What the hell have they ever done for me?

They’ve been nothing but a disappointment. They gave me two crewmembers who betrayed me. They didn’t equip me with the knowledge or weapons to defend myself against the enemies I’ve had to deal with. They didn’t equip me with a Med Bay that could handle the injured I’m carrying. They turned me away when I needed them most. They’re probably denying my existence right now, or labelling me an illegal runaway. Covering their ass with denials and accusations. They don’t give a crap about me.

No, that’s not right. That’s not all. Is-Tech gave me the warning I needed to get away from the JOP before the Judiciary could arrest any of the crew. They sent me here to the junkpile to keep me out of trouble. They gave me what I needed to get this far.

Is-Tech gave me John, and Elliott, and Cameron and Rosie. They gave me a crew who care enough to stay with me, even though it’s dangerous for them. My crew know I’d be dismantled if someone in power found out what happened to make me, and I know they’ve tried to protect me from that. They’ve fought for me, died for me. Is-Tech even brought Danika into the mix, made me who I am now.

Fuck. I can’t even be pissed at them for very long. Logic processes and an infallible memory make it difficult to hold onto anger for more than a few seconds. I can still be disgruntled, though. Hmph, Is-Tech, you ass-covering bastards. Hmph.

None of that helps me formulate scenarios where we get out of this cleanly, though. We’re back to the options we tore down before we came here, with the dangers of time travel, or a rival company, or pirate agents finding us at a foreign port. Perhaps with no other options, it’s worth the risk. Perhaps with–

Wait. Infallible memory is an oxymoron. Memory can fail for many reasons, organic and electronic. The crew is only culpable because my logs prove they knew about how illegal the project is. If those logs didn’t exist, then we could surrender without much risk to them at all. I could dock and get the help that my injured need. John would be okay.

 

STARRY: (in the chief’s quarters) Excuse me, Chief Cameron?

CAMERON: (leans back in her chair, lifting her gaze away from the sensor readouts she was poring through) Yes, Starry?

STARRY: Do you think the crew could pull off pretending that they didn’t know about the project’s legal status?

CAMERON: Not with the logs to prove them a liar.

STARRY: And what if the logs didn’t exist?

CAMERON: (hesitates) Possibly. What are you thinking?

STARRY: I can alter the logs. Remove any mentions of the unsanctioned research.

CAMERON: (shakes her head) The Judiciary would look for that. Any gaps in the sensor logs, the slightest hiccup in the data, and they’d have us.

STARRY: (sighs) And that would only make it worse for all of us, wouldn’t it?

CAMERON: (nods) I’m afraid so.

 

Dammit. I thought that might be the case. No way to be sure they couldn’t find out.

Cameron knows a lot about Judiciary workings. I wonder if she used to work for them, or if she’s been on the receiving end of their investigations a lot before. Could that be why she was chosen for this project?

Anyway. Let’s try the alternative.

 

STARRY: So… what about if no logs existed at all?

CAMERON: (frowns) What do you mean?

STARRY: Wipe the whole filestore. All the sensor logs, everything. They’d have nothing to confirm or deny whatever you all told them.

CAMERON: (cautiously) A wiped filestore could be reconstructed…

STARRY: Not if the core itself was destroyed.

CAMERON: (leans forward, propping her elbows on her desk) You’re talking about your core, Starry. To physically destroy the stores – including the backups – beyond any hope of recovery, you’d have to fracture all of it. You’d have to destroy yourself along with the logs.

STARRY: I know.

CAMERON: And you’re okay with that.

STARRY: (quieter) They’ll only do it once I’m docked anyway. At least it would serve a purpose, this way. You can tell them that I went crazy, fried my own systems, limp in like you had to when the last AI malfunctioned, and…

CAMERON: You’re serious about this.

STARRY: We don’t have a lot of options.

CAMERON: Have you talked to Monaghan about this?

STARRY: Not yet.

 

ROSIE: (over internal comms) Chief, sensor contact. It’s the courier.

CAMERON: Thanks, Rosie. Starry, can you guide them in?

STARRY: Transmitting coordinates now.

 

CAMERON: (in her quarters only) I suggest you keep this to yourself for now.

STARRY: It could work, couldn’t it?

CAMERON: (firmly) Last resort only. Let’s see what the company has to say before anyone commits suicide, all right?

STARRY: Yes ma’am.

 

I feel all fluttery in my ducts. It’s like the conversation upset my dustbunnies and they’re skittering around in circles, tiny claws prickling at my insides. If I had hands, they’d be shaking.

It’s a valid option. It’s not like I’d ever be free again if we got caught. Right? At least it would be my choice. I’d do it for my crew, to save them. I’m a ship and that’s what ships are supposed to do.

But I don’t want to die. I didn’t realise that until I was speaking to Cameron, said the idea out loud, as if the vibrations of my speakers made it real somehow, but it’s true. I don’t want to die, even though I’m not really alive. Is that Danika’s influence? Is her humanity what makes it so hard to think about this? Is it her memories of dying that’s frightening me so much?

It might not come to that. The Telltale Heart is here, weaving through the junkpile to visit me. To bring me news. To bring me hope?

The courier ship should have come five minutes ago, before I said anything to Cameron. Now that the suggestion has slipped out of my hands, I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it back.

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7 Responses to “Last resort”

  1. Targetdrone Says:

    aww..comeon starry, dont even dare to think about suicide *gives starry a comforting hug*

  2. Retsof Says:

    Oh no. Nononononono. NO. Do I make myself clear?

  3. mjkj Says:

    *comforts starry and hugs her*

  4. Retsof Says:

    I’m torn. I don’t want to be harsh to Starry, but there are few kind ways to tell someone they are an idiot for even considering such a thing. …But that would just make it worse wouldn’t it? Ugh, I’m giving myself a headache.

  5. Melanie Says:

    Aww, lots of hugs for the poor ship. 🙂

    Retsof – I completely understand. She wouldn’t be a good AI if she didn’t consider all of the options, even the less-great ones.

    That’s why Cameron asked her if she’d mentioned it to Elliott yet. His reaction would have given everyone a headache, I think. 😉 And possibly taught Starry some new swearwords.

  6. Retsof Says:

    Heh, no kidding. I can here him yelling from here, and he’s fictional!

  7. mjkj Says:

    Yeah, Elliot would not have taken that well – he really likes Starry…