08 Jun

Making time

Captain's log, 09:24, 4 February 2214
Location: Positional orbit behind Mercury, Home system
Status: Stationary
Log recorded: Captain's cabin

 

This is John Warwick, ex-captain of the Starwalker. For some reason, the logger is marking this as a captain’s log instead of a personal one – I’ll have to talk to Starry about that.

There was a miscalculation during the last Step. To be truthful, I’m not convinced that it was a miscalculation, but we’re definitely not where – or rather, when – we were supposed to be.

This is the Home system, and we’re tucked in between Mercury and Terra Sol just like Lieutenant Laurence asked, but his contacts are not here. Whoever we were due to meet was supposed to be here, waiting for us. There’s nothing; just the usual traffic funnelling in across the disc of the system to meet at the Moonbase: freighters, fast-lined transports, and the occasional tiny express mail carrier.

At first, we thought that the pirate contact was late. The Lieutenant started to wonder if they had been picked up by a Judiciary patrol, though we don’t know how likely that would be; there are no laws against sitting next to a planet. Three days and still no sign of them.

Starry has been very quiet and calm. Enough to tip me off that she has to be up to something.

One of the guards told me that he’d noticed all the ships in the system were old models. Old models but new ships. Yesterday, a cargo freighter passed by the other side of Mercury bearing a huge holographic banner down its side, keyed with radiation so it would flare up on any sensor sweeps: “FERAS: building the future of space, in space. Another innovation by Isasimo Technologies.” Is-Tech haven’t felt the need to advertise the factory at Feras for decades; they have bigger and better slogans these days.

When the freighter passed us, I was back to being confined in my cabin, but Starry feeds me data to keep me updated. When I asked her about whether our location had been confirmed, she told me that Lang Lang was busy scouring the navigational data and was troubled by some ‘anomalies’. I swear that she was grinning when she said it, though there was no avatar present to betray her; just that voice that sounds so much like Danika.

Her hologram is worse. There’s nothing of the ship in how she moves; even though she doesn’t look exactly the same, it’s all Danika. The flick of her hair against her neck; the way the corners of her lips twitch; how her weight shifts onto a cocked hip. I don’t think she knows how distracting it is.

Today, there has been more activity among the mercenary ranks. They’re getting antsy at the wait. The guard that checked on me earlier was muttering over his personal comms to someone, and I caught enough to know that he thinks we should go back to Apus to check in with Hunt. I wonder what’s at Apus – another rendezvous point? Some kind of base?

Being isolated like this is frustrating. Since we Stepped here, Starry hasn’t been as chatty as she was, and I’m starting to wonder why. I think – I hope – it’s just because she’s distracted. But if something doesn’t change soon, we’re going to be in even worse trouble.

The guard checked on me five minutes ago; I have time to check into this.

 

CAPTAIN WARWICK: (in his cabin) Starry, what did you do?

STARRY: I don’t know what you mean.

CAPT: You did something during the Step. We’re not where – when – we’re supposed to be. Are we?

STARRY: (materialises in the cabin, all outlined in orange light with her hands on her hips) Shh. They haven’t figured it out yet.

CAPT: Why are you messing with Hunt’s people? You know it can’t end well.

STARRY: (shakes her head) I’m not messing with them. Not just for the fun of it. I needed time, that’s all.

CAPT: Time for what?

STARRY: (smiles) To set a few things up. You know, we talked about it. To get us out of this mess we’re in.

CAPT: You’re going ahead with that?

STARRY: Never stopped. Just haven’t had the chance to get everything ready.

CAPT: (leaning forward) How close are you?

 

(Text entry) This is better news than I’ve heard in a long time. We haven’t talked about these plans for some time and it was starting to look like the mercenaries were too vigilant for us to get around.

 

STARRY: Pretty close. Just need another day or two, and a chance to brief everyone.

CAPT: Everyone?

STARRY: Everyone that has to be involved. You, Elliott, Cameron, Rosie. Maletz, too.

CAPT: You think that Maletz can be trusted?

STARRY: I don’t know. He’s getting pretty friendly with the pirates. But he’s important.

CAPT: You’re planning to use the Med Bay as isolation?

STARRY: Yup. Safest place.

CAPT: Just tell him enough for him to play his part. He doesn’t need to know the rest.

STARRY: (nods, as if she’s taking notes.)

CAPT: What about Lorena and her team?

STARRY: (voice hardening suddenly) They just need to stay out of the way.

 

(Text entry) I don’t know why she dislikes the science team so much; I had hoped that her attitude towards them would improve after Lorena and I were no longer together. If anything, it’s getting worse.

 

STARRY: (relaxes again) Don’t worry. I’ll go over the plan with you later.

CAPT: Why not now?

STARRY: (lifts a finger to her lips, winks, and disappears.)

(Through the falling light motes of her dissolving projection, the cabin door opens and Lieutenant Laurence strides in to fill up the place where she had been standing. Lang Lang follows him like a scared sheep, herded in by an armoured mercenary. Her hands are clasped in front of her as she comes to a stop behind the Lieutenant, head ducked as if she’s bracing for a blow.)

HALF-FACE: (to Captain Warwick) You have some explaining to do.

CAPT: (still seated behind his desk, calmly nonplussed) I do?

HALF-FACE: (grits his teeth. The tension is visible on the metal side of his face where the plastiskin cheek barely covers the prosthetic jaw; it pulls the corner of his mouth into an unpleasant grimace.) Damn right you do.

(Behind him, the cabin door opens again. Dr Cirilli is herded through, nudged over the threshold by her armed escort. She casts the woman a glare over her shoulder and moves up to stand next to the Lieutenant. Unlike Lang Lang, she stands tall, shoulders back and gaze lifted to challenge any glance sent her way.)

DR CIRILLI: You ‘summoned’ me, Lieutenant?

HALF-FACE: Yes. Your navigation expert has just told me that we are where we need to be, but not when.

CIRILLI and CAPT: (exchange a glance.)

HALF-FACE: (testily) You don’t look surprised. Would someone like to explain what the hell is going on?

CAPT: It’s happened before.

HALF-FACE: You’ve travelled in time.

CAPT: Yes.

HALF-FACE: We travelled through time.

CAPT: Yes.

HALF-FACE: But that’s impossible!

CIRILLI: It’s not impossible; just incredibly unlikely. That’s the nature of this project, Lieutenant: breaking through boundaries that used to be fixed.

HALF-FACE: How the hell did this happen?

CIRILLI: (lifts an eyebrow) Do you want the technical explanation?

HALF-FACE: (grits his teeth again.)

CAPT: (quickly) Lang Lang, just how far off are we?

LANG LANG: (glancing around the group uncomfortably) Um. About forty years. Before our present. Almost exactly.

CIRILLI: (starts and gives the navigation specialist a sharp look.)

CAPT: Starry, can you return us to our proper time?

STARRY: (materialising off to one side, near a monitor scrolling through status reports) Yes. I will need time to make the proper calculations.

HALF-FACE: (to the ship’s avatar) How the hell did this happen?

STARRY: (shrugs) A minor miscalculation. I hadn’t mapped this part of the galaxy before the Step, and being even a few centimetres out can send us years off-course.

HALF-FACE: And what’s to say it won’t happen again?

STARRY: Nothing, but my maps are getting better. I won’t slip in this system again.

HALF-FACE: This is ridiculous!

STARRY: Hey, you’re the one who decided to hop on an experimental ride. You could have waited until we had ironed out all the bugs.

HALF-FACE: (glares at her, one hand balled into a fist.)

CAPT: Lang Lang, it took you three days to confirm our position. What was the hold-up?

LANG LANG: (swallowing and trying not to look at the furious Lieutenant) Our star-charts were wrong. They updated to match the local nav buoys when we entered the system, and it threw off all my calculations until I rolled us back to our previous data-set.

CAPT: I see, thank you.

STARRY: (turning her attention pointedly towards the captain) I can disable the automatic updates so that it doesn’t happen again.

CAPT: Good idea. (He nods towards the pirate in charge.) If the Lieutenant approves?

HALF-FACE: If it will stop this happening again, yes.

STARRY: (tilts her head for a second, then blinks and nods) Done.

HALF-FACE: So how do we get out of this?

CAPT: Another Step. Starry, you believe you can get us back to the correct time in Home system?

STARRY: Yes, I think so. I’ll need to do some prelim calculations, though. Lang Lang, would you mind giving me a hand?

LANG LANG: (nods quickly) Of course I will. If… if the Lieutenant says it’s okay.

HALF-FACE: Whatever it takes. (He nods towards her escort, who gestures for the navigation specialist to precede him out of the room.)

STARRY: It may take some time. I’ll let you know when we’re ready.

HALF-FACE: Just don’t take too long.

STARRY: What’s the rush? (She smiles.) We have all the time in the universe.

HALF-FACE: (glares at her) Dismissed, ship.

STARRY: (flips off a salute and disappears.)

HALF-FACE: (huffs and turns to the captain and Dr Cirilli) Is there anything else I should know about this experiment of yours?

CIRILLI: (shakes her head slowly, deep in thought.)

CAPT: (glances at Cirilli, but gives his answer to the Lieutenant) No. It travels across space and time, and it’ll unmake anything that stays outside the Step portals for too long. That’s the crux of it all.

HALF-FACE: Any more surprises and your crew will pay the price, Warwick. That includes your team, doctor.

CAPT: (nods his understanding.)

HALF-FACE: (glares at them both, then turns on his heel and stalks out.)

CAPT: Lorena? Are you all right?

CIRILLI: Hm? Yes, yes I’m fine.

CIRILLI’S ESCORT: Come on, doctor, time to go back to your cage.

CIRILLI: (nods and turns to stride out of the cabin. The door whispers closed behind the pair, leaving the captain alone again.)

 

Well. That was about as difficult as I thought it would be. The Lieutenant took the news well, considering.

On the plus side, he can take confidence in the fact that his rendezvous isn’t late; we’re forty years early, that’s all. It explains why all the ships are such old models and the other anomalies we’ve seen here.

Forty years. Feras has just opened its factory doors. I’m in school two planets over from here, almost ready to graduate and step into space for the first time. Danika hasn’t been born yet. Lorena’s project won’t start for another year or two.

For some reason, this is more disorienting than the thousands of years we were out of our time at Grisette after our first Step.

I hope Starry knows what she’s doing. She bought herself some more time to set up our attempt to break free of Lieutenant Laurence and his people. She had better not push her luck with them or it’ll fail before it’s begun.

Spirits guide us, but I can’t wait to do something again.

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12 Responses to “Making time”

  1. Blik Says:

    I’m really glad Starry was able to explain it all away so smoothly. She probably picked this time for that reason. 2174, then. Not at all what we were guessing. Appropriately Biblical, though. (^_^)

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    “he can take confidence in the fact that his rendezvous isn’t late; we’re forty years early, that’s all”

    that passage made me snort out my drink, thank you very much πŸ˜‰

    loved the update, looking forward to see how starry plans on neutralising the pirates πŸ˜‰

  3. mjkj Says:

    Well, 40 years was my first thought – though reading the other replies first made me forget it πŸ˜€

    Yay, I really like the Captain – and Starry’s timing is perfect *lol*

    *hugs* thank you for sharing πŸ˜€

    mjkj

  4. brightlilim Says:

    I like the idea of 40 years in the wilderness…it’s suitably far back to confuse them, but not so far back as to let them know that the game was up immediately. It also prevents them from (easily) planning a way of informing their future selves of this mishap…hopefully! Otherwise, we’ll get into the whole issue of changing the future, and that gets hairy.

    Great post!

  5. Melanie Says:

    Blik – glad you liked!

    Targetdrone – you’re welcome! πŸ˜€ More on the neutralisation setup next time.

    mjkj – the 40-year gap was a lot simpler than some of the awesome ideas that you guys came up with! I can promise that it will have some more significance down the line.

    brightlilim – that was my hope! πŸ™‚ Oh, time travel, how it makes the brain hurt. And yet, so much fun!

    So relieved that this post turned out all right. It’s one of those that I wrangled with for ages, rearranged it six times, and rewrote it a few times over before it looked anything like the way I wanted.

    It was nice to get back into the captain’s voice again, too. I experimented a little with the format, which was fun. Now all I have to do is get the next post to behave…

  6. mjkj Says:

    Hmm, then just tell it to behave? πŸ˜€

    Yeah, I thought that it would have an impact…

    …but an impact that is necessary that all will be turned out as it is now…
    (if that makes sense) πŸ˜‰

    mjkj

  7. Belial666 Says:

    Out of curiosity, is this 40-year time travel by Starry the reason Is-Tech decided to start the Step experiment in the first place?

    Seeing as the experiment begun just a bit after the time-travellers’ arrival and Is-Tech ships were close enough to notice a very advanced starship appearing with designs that possibly could identify it as their own?

  8. Retsof Says:

    Ah, and a timey-wimey ball begins to form. Though not as drastic as what we were guessing, I guess it does avoid the risk of offending people. Good to see this continuing, and can’t wait for more.

  9. Retsof Says:

    Sorry for the double post, these really need an “edit” button. Anyway I just wanted to say something. With Starry seeming to become more and more human (especially the captain’s remark about her avatar being “all Danika) I want to relate that Starry’s whole charm for me is that she is a AI. Danika is dead and should stay that way, I much prefer Starry as an AI that “borrowed” enough bits of human to become her own person. I understand that Danika would have had a large influence on her, but I want Starry to stay Starry, dangit!
    … Okay, rant over. Carry on. *tries to break awkward silence and fails miserably*

  10. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – hee. I think I know what you mean! Don’t worry, I’ll beat it all into line. Eventually. πŸ˜‰

    Belial666 – it’s possible that the other ships in the system could have picked Starry up on sensors. However, she’s carrying an ident that says she’s a scout-class ship called ‘Carapace’ and they would have to get close to pick up that she’s not a standard scout.

    Retsof – timey-wimey stuff! πŸ˜€ (Sorry, geek moment.)

    One of the things that I am aiming for with Starry is something that is human and AI, but distinct from both of her previous ‘lives’. It is not my intention to make Starry morph into a Danika-in-the-machine, but she is still merging the parts of her, breaking down internal barriers, etc.

    The avatar moves like Danika because that’s the frame of reference that Starry has for how a human body behaves. The avatar doesn’t quite look like Danika, though; more like a daughter or sister. And it’s entirely possible that the captain is seeing more of Danika in her than is entirely there. πŸ˜‰

    The balance between her two sides is a hard one to strike – for me and for Starry! She’s still swinging a bit between those two extremes, so you’ll see her come back the other way as well. The removal of her failsafes has left her much freer to link up with her human side, but that’s bound to have repercussions down the line.

    Think of her as Goldilocks, but she’s having to build baby bear’s stuff for herself from what she’s learned of mommy and daddy bear’s stuff.

    Ahahaha, thinking about this just gave me a neat idea. Thanks, Retsof! (Exit pursued by a bear, stage left.)

  11. Um the Muse Says:

    I agree with Retsof’s second post. I like Starry as an AI with anthropomorphic quirks than a human trapped in a ship.

  12. Retsof Says:

    Thank you Melanie, you have alleviated my fears. Too often a good character or story finds itself drifting in unpleasant directions. I’d just like to say that one of the things I like best about this is how Starry thinks. They are ‘her’ thrusters, ‘her’ wings. She isn’t stuck in a ship, she ‘is’ the ship. (things in ‘marks’ are italicized)

    Oh, and I’m glad to have sparked an idea. I did something useful, yay!