28 Apr

Logs don’t lie

Ship's log, 22:53, 28 April 2213
Location: Grisette system
Status: Wide orbit around Grisette sol

 

Investigations into the sabotage are progressing in a disturbing fashion.

I had to ask Elliott and then the captain for access to all of the archives from the first Starwalker. They were reluctant to open everything up to me – I think they’re trying to protect me – but we all know what happened. What is there left to hide? The big, bad secret has been spilled, so we might as well get on with things. Yesterday, I was finally given the whole archive to unpack and sift through.

It’s not as simple as I was hoping. First and foremost, it’s difficult to look at the logs of Danika’s death. I have to cut off the recording at the moment when the surge floods the pilot’s chair, but even so, I can’t help the horror that seeps up into my processors as I sift through the sensor data before that point. I know what’s about to happen.

I know that I’m looking at the last impressions of her, captured in cold, uncaring code. I can’t help but notice small things. She fidgeted before she hopped into the chair, itching for that moment when she was given the go-ahead. Weight bobbed from side to side, fingers tucked short hair behind her ears. She smiled when she was released, and wriggled restlessly in the chair’s cushions. Plugging into the chair made her suck a deep breath in, and then her whole body relaxed as she slid into the ship.

As bouncy as she was going into her role, she took it seriously once she was in there. Not a waggle of the wings or a hint of a barrel-roll as she took the helm. She had piloted the ship through the chair enough times to be familiar with how it felt, and she set a suitably sedate pace to the portal. There was a tautly excited note to her voice when she made her progress updates, but everything else was calm and controlled. By the book. She could follow expectation and rules when she wanted to.

Sometimes, when I’ve been staring at the same data for too long, her memories creep in. I start to go through that day from behind her eyes, as if I’m the one plugged into an immersion chair and she’s the ship. She was looking forward to finally being able to do what they hired her for. After months of waiting and running through routine tests and calibrations, she was more than ready. As fun as her extra-curricular entertainments were, they weren’t true flying, and she missed it.

She’d had her implants upgraded specially for this mission. Every time she plugged in, a thrill of fear that ran through her, because these implants took over her senses thoroughly. There was a moment’s lag in the initial connection to the chair, which created a disturbing moment when she wasn’t connected to anything. She was free-floating in a void with only her own internal voice for company. It might only last for a heartbeat or two, but it was terrifying for her. Then her world shifted and she was in the ship, and everything was fine again. No matter how many times she asked Elliott to tighten it up, they couldn’t get rid of that lag. There had to be a safety buffer, he said, or the sensory data might overlap and overload her or her implants. It was one of the things they argued about.

I’m not supposed to be focussing on her. I’m not supposed to be comparing that final chair-link to the ones that came before (though I have, and there’s nothing remarkably different about them). I’m supposed to be looking for that elusive signal, the one that tripped the device in the chair’s feeds. The one that built up power until it could be released through the pilot.

I have run every diagnostic over the data that I have in my arsenal. Elliott had already run them, but I did it anyway. Every different sensor and angle has been picked apart and examined separately. The picture has been assembled and broken down and re-assembled so many times that it makes my processors spin. We found a breath of a signal, the tiniest blip in the radio frequencies just after Danika connected to the chair. We started in the area of the chair itself, and that’s the only place we’ve found it. We can’t link it to any other process or equipment on the ship; nothing of mine uses that frequency, so it must be what tripped the device.

The problem is that we can’t find it anywhere but at the chair. It should have been sent from somewhere – there should be a trail leading us back to whoever activated it. But it doesn’t go anywhere. The signal is strongest in the area it was received, which is backwards. It doesn’t make sense.

 

Recording: 15:36, 28 April

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering, leaning back from his console and waving the display off with one hand.) Enough, enough. We must be looking in the wrong place.

STARWALKER: Where else is there to look?

ELLIOTT: Maybe it wasn’t tripped wirelessly. Maybe it was through the hard lines.

SW: But we checked all the feeds. They were clean.

ELLIOTT: (rubbing a hand over his face.) It had to come from somewhere. It couldn’t just…. (He frowns and sits up.) Dammit. Of course. We don’t have all the pieces.

SW: What do you mean? I have all the sensor logs now, don’t I? I don’t detect any gaps in the archives.

ELLIOTT: No, no. Not soft pieces – hardware. We’re missing the chair. The original chair.

SW: You think something else was in the chair?

ELLIOTT: Had to be. Source and receiver? It’s unlikely, but that’s what it looks like.

SW: What happened to that chair?

ELLIOTT: Turned over for scrap. Won’t be able to get it back now.

SW: So there’s no way of knowing what might have been on it.

ELLIOTT: (scowls) Hey, I did an investigation after the– after what happened. Didn’t want anyone to say that it was my fault. I pulled that damned thing into pieces – smaller pieces, ’cause it was already falling apart – to try to find out what caused the surge. There was nothing. Nothing in there that shouldn’t have been.

SW: If it wasn’t in the hardware, could it have been in the software? Something installed on it?

ELLIOTT: Now that’s more like it! Whoever did it must have known that the surge would cover up all signs of it. A virus wouldn’t survive that.

SW: So we need to look at whoever installed things on the chair?

ELLIOTT: Sounds like a good place to start.

SW: Could they have done it remotely?

ELLIOTT: Possibly, but it’d show up on the feed logs. This paranoid bastard doesn’t like to leave a trail, and the best way to avoid that would be to do it locally.

SW: Exchanging one log record for another.

ELLIOTT: But it’s easier to look like you’re doing something innocent if you’re physically there. Harder to prove. Can’t hide your intentions on a feed log. Not unless you’re some kind of code-wrangling genius.

SW: Okay. I’ll scan the logs of the first Starwalker and put together a list of everyone who fiddled with the chair.

ELLIOTT: (cheerfully) Great.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the rest of the day. Scouring the first Starwalker’s sensor logs for anyone who was near that chair long enough to install something on it.

These logs are strange. Different to mine, though in a way that’s hard to quantify. On the surface, they’re all just impassive recordings of the work, drama, and quiet that swirl around inside my hull. But somehow, those archives are cold. It’s as if someone stripped a layer off them when they were packed away. But they haven’t been altered – I checked.

So now I wonder if I’m the one adding something to the records. I wonder if my feelings and reactions are being inserted into the logs, the way that Danika’s memories are coloured so heavily by her emotions. There’s nothing embedded into the code that I can identify, so maybe it’s just me. Something to do with how I remember things, memory connections rather than calling up separate files. Danika has affected how I think, how I process information – I guess this is the same. I really am different from that first AI.

Memorial musings aside, I have a shortlist now. Pared down from everyone who breezed past the chair to those who stopped close enough to touch it. Cross-referenced with those who lingered behind the chair and might have installed the device itself.

I keep looking at the shortlist and getting an uncomfortable feeling. I don’t want to pass it on.

Wong. He did a lot of work on and around the chair, integrating its systems with the Star Step controls. He had the ability and opportunity.

Cirilli. She checked everything over personally (which drove Wong a little nuts). I don’t know if she has the technical knowledge to do this, though.

Tripi. She performed the standard software security checks on the chair, same as she did for the other equipment aboard. She could write a virus with her prettily-painted hands behind her back. I don’t know if she could have installed the device.

Elliot. Plenty of opportunity, and he’s more than capable, in a technical capacity. But it’s not him – it can’t be.

Danika. She helped with so much of the work and plugged directly into the chair. Sure, she could have had a virus loaded into her implants before she hooked in, but it’s ridiculous to even consider her. It killed her. She had to know that’s what would happen and she was anything but suicidal. Besides, I’d know if it was her. Her memories are burned into me – I couldn’t escape them if I tried. I’d remember her doing it and I don’t.

In the sensor logs of the first Step attempt, I keep coming back to the moment when the signal pulsed. The blip of data that activated the device that killed her lasted only a second. She was already hooked into the chair, lying prone. But just before the blip, the fingers of her right hand twitched; a tiny motion, perfectly timed. It had to be a random twitch; she wasn’t even aware of her body at that point. She couldn’t have tripped it.

No, I’d know if it was her. I would remember, and I don’t. It had to be one of the others.

The problem is I’m not sure if anyone will believe me. They’ll go to the next logical question: if the chair tripped the device, then who tripped the chair?

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2 Responses to “Logs don’t lie”

  1. Carmen Says:

    Wow. Just wow. I would have *never* thought Danika could be the one responsible for the “accident,” but her finger twitching at just the right moment… But Starry’s right; she would have had a memory of Danika thinking planting and/or thinking about the act of sabotage…right? Danika REALLY loved flying…maybe she wanted to “become” a ship all along…. Gaah! So many things to think about!

    Thank you for doing such a wonderful job of keeping me on my toes in this story. Just when I think there’s no escaping a run-of-the-mill plot point, you manage to surprise me.

  2. Melanie Says:

    Hi Carmen! Thanks for the comments. I do like to throw curveballs in when I can. 😉 Glad you’re enjoying it!