14 Nov

Marshmallow

Chief Engineer's log, 22:19, 26 April 2214
Location: Debris ring, Sconnor orbit, Dyne system
Status: Stationary

 

Logging immersion chair data
Engineering immersion chair active

 

Log location: Nexus 25-bravo-16

(The Chief Engineer’s avatar appears at a crossroads. Around him, buildings sweep up in smooth curves, like softly shifting glass. Light flows beneath the surface of the road under his feet and into the whirling mechanics inside each building nugget. There, the data is twisted, picked apart, reconstructed, or simply just siphoned off into a new path.

The place hums quietly and a light breeze disturbs Elliott’s hair. He looks around, then seems to strike out in a random direction, one hand scrubbing at the back of his head.

After he has gone a couple of paces, small dog made of black code bounds around a corner and up to the engineer. The dog growls briefly, then sniffs Elliott and wags his tail. A pink-coded tongue lolls out of his mouth in greeting.)

ELLIOTT: (pats the security protocol on the head) Where’s Starry, boy? Where is she?

SECURIDOG1: (barks and nudges his nose down a side street.)

ELLIOTT: Thanks, boy. (He sets off down the narrow street, idly glancing at the processing he’s passing.)

(It’s mostly environmental data in this section, being monitored to keep the ship’s internal atmosphere running smooth and steady for the crew. It is all green and flowing easily, so there’s no reason for the engineer to stop.

As Elliott reaches the outskirts of the processing nexus, the buildings dwindle and a grassy slope rises before him. Elliott starts up the incline, huffing to himself, but he can see the ship’s avatar standing near the top of the hill. He presses on. The simulated grass is perfectly green and soft beneath his heavy boots, and it springs up behind him quietly to mask his footprints.

The ship’s avatar doesn’t turn as he approaches. She’s staring off over her network, absorbed in the view. From the slope’s vantage point, she can see the whole network representation: the clusters of processing houses around each nexus; the colour-coded threads of light as the data is shuttled around; the layers of data storage underneath it; the bright inputs from the sensor feeds coming in from above; the segregating walls around complex scenario simulations; the heavier domes encapsulating her core programming. She looks deep in thought, a thousand miles away in her own head.)

ELLIOTT: (reaches out to snag her little finger when he’s close enough) Hey.

STARRY: (blinks and turns, and is surprised into a smile) Hi! Elliott. I… wasn’t expecting you.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, um. (He scrubs at his hair with his free hand.) Everything all right in here?

STARRY: Yeah, no problems too report. Why, did you find something?

ELLIOTT: Oh, no, no. I was just, um. Thought I’d check out this ident from the inside.

STARRY: Oh. It’s this way. (She gestures to her left, roughly ninety degrees from the direction Elliott had come from. In the distance, there’s a low, dark dome squatting in the centre in the network. She starts off towards it.) How does the new one look?

ELLIOTT: (releases her hand and walks beside her) Looks all right so far. I’m still working on it.

STARRY: Here to get some code to compare it to?

ELLIOTT: (glances at her sideways) Yeah.

STARRY: (gives him a little smile) You could have asked me to get it for you, you know.

ELLIOTT: I know. It’s fine.

STARRY: It’s late. You should really be sleeping. The doctor said…

ELLIOTT: The doctor’s a condescending idiot. I’m fine, Starry.

STARRY: (stops and turns to look at him directly) You’re still healing, Elliott. Rest is important.

ELLIOTT: (almost walks on, then he sighs and stops as well) Look at me: I’m okay. Really.

STARRY: (touches his cheek, her expression worried) You are in here. Out there, not so much. You push yourself too hard. I’m just trying to look out for you.

ELLIOTT: Yeah? And what about you, huh?

STARRY: (blinks) What about me?

ELLIOTT: (sighs, making an effort to push down his gruffness before he speaks) You’re not being yourself. You’ve been quiet ever since we landed on Dyne.

STARRY: I… there just hasn’t been much to say, I guess. I…

ELLIOTT: (frowns at her) You’re hiding behind a rock in debris ring. A few days ago, you were at least flying around it. Now you’re tucked in and the engines are powered down. You think I’m not gonna notice?

STARRY: (looks at him helplessly) It’s just been a lot. To think about.

ELLIOTT: (frown deepening, but not aimed at her now) Yeah. Bastards, the pair of them. I thought you were prepared for all this?

STARRY: (sighs) So did I. I wanted to find them and punish them for trying to hurt us all, but it… now they’re dead. Both of them.

ELLIOTT: (nods) The captain suspected, didn’t he? That they were working together.

STARRY: He said that the Chief noticed them spending a lot of time together, behind privacy locks. And considering that they don’t tend to swing that way, she knew it wasn’t for sex. They had plenty of time to make plans and set up that message.

ELLIOTT: Shit.

STARRY: Rosie’s really upset about it.

ELLIOTT: Because she was screwing Swann?

STARRY: Yeah. I think the Chief kept Rosie away from the final confrontation on purpose, in case he really had got to her. Rosie’s pissed that she didn’t get the chance to shoot him herself.

ELLIOTT: (scowls) Yeah, I know the feeling.

STARRY: (stares at Elliott with dismay and touches his arm) I’m sorry. After what happened with Tripi, it must…

ELLIOTT: (shrugs) Hard not to remember it. Fucking bitch. (He glances at the ship.) It’s fine.

STARRY: (smiles lopsidedly, but there’s a tremor in her voice) As fine as I am?

ELLIOTT: (snorts wryly and tugs her closer so he can put an arm around her.)

STARRY: (tucks in against his side and slides her arms around his ribs. She rests her head on his shoulder.)

ELLIOTT: (is silent for a long moment. Then the closeness becomes too awkward for him.) You want to talk about it?

STARRY: (sighs, closing her eyes) Not really. Just… (She lifts her head so she can look at him.) …promise me…

ELLIOTT: Promise you what?

STARRY: (takes a breath as if she’ll speak, but she lets it out without any words. Abruptly, she looks like she might cry. Her eyes show the turmoil she can’t voice, the upset and the fear lurking in all the things she can’t say.)

ELLIOTT: (cups her face with his free hand) Hey. I ain’t like them and I’m not going anywhere. Promise.

STARRY: (studies Elliott for a moment, then leans in to kiss him firmly.)

(There’s a hovering moment of uncertainty, before a decision passes between them and the moment is sealed. Arms slide to draw each other near, fingers curl in hair, and the kiss deepens.

It’s a long, intimate pause before their lips part. They linger close, gazes dipped as neither wants to look the other in the eye.)

STARRY: (fingertips smoothing the ends of Elliott’s hair against the side of his neck) So.

ELLIOTT: (quietly, trying not to sound breathless) So.

STARRY: This is awkward. Would it help if I said I was sorry?

ELLIOTT: Are you?

STARRY: (lifts her gaze bravely to his face) Sorry? No.

ELLIOTT: (meets her eye and the corners of his mouth twitch before he glances away) Okay. So, this ident…

STARRY: Is this way!

(Her hands fall away from him so they can start walking again, but Elliott quietly snags one of them. Their fingers link together as they fall into step with each other.

Further along the path, coded gates are set into a dome of red and black code, protecting the inner AI protocols and sensitive core processing. Prompted by their approach, the layers of protection shimmer and move in complicated patterns,Β  and they peel open as the pair arrive, allowing them through without hesitation.)

STARRY: (sighs as they walk inside) I don’t make a very good warship, do I?

ELLIOTT: (glances over his shoulder as the dome zips itself up behind them, sealing them inside. The space within the coded security walls is packed with processing hubs, data storage, and heavily laced with information links. Most of it is far more complex than what lies outside.) What do you mean?

STARRY: I fall apart every time we fight someone. I’m gonna have to toughen up.

ELLIOTT: (snorts) Seems to me you do just fine when it’s someone else we’re fighting.

STARRY: (looks at him with surprise) I…

ELLIOTT: It’s true, Starry. Only time you get twitchy is when it’s one of our own. And don’t tell me it ain’t a conflict with your crew protection protocols.

STARRY: Well, I guess that might be part of it…

ELLIOTT: That, and you’re a marshmallow.

STARRY: Hey.

ELLIOTT: (smiles to himself as he walks around a processing hub and comes to a stop in front of a tall, blue- and red-coded wall) A marshmallow with a titanium-plated ass.

STARRY: (narrows her eyes at him) I’m only squishy on the inside?

ELLIOTT: (taps on the code-wall to bring up an interface) Yup.

STARRY: (folds her arms over her chest) Now you’re making fun of me.

ELLIOTT: Yup.

STARRY: I don’t know why I put up with you.

ELLIOTT: Because I’m the best engineer you know.

STARRY: You’re the only engineer I know.

ELLIOTT: (grins as he manipulates the interface and displays ripple with data around him. He pauses in his work to meet her gaze.) You’ll do fine. Go run some battle simulations; you’ll feel better.

STARRY: I could say the same about you and sleep.

ELLIOTT: (rolls his eyes, but his smile lingers as his attention returns to the readouts) Ten minutes.

STARRY: (hands lifting to help him access the ident data he needs) Deal.

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8 Responses to “Marshmallow”

  1. anonymus Says:

    awwww

    thanks for the chapter

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    awww.. nothing like young love πŸ˜›
    and about time they kissed too …

    hot damn… now i have to think about that “could you love a machine?”-poster from BSG again…

  3. Kunama Says:

    “behind him quietly to mask his footprints”
    footprints.

    “a thousand mile away in her own head”
    miles

    “The red and black code of the dome’s walls shimmers”
    This is actually correct, but took some rereading to realise that. Probably don’t need to specify ‘walls’; I’m unsure how a dome can have multiple walls if the outside is one round surface. Do you mean ‘layers’? May need to reword this sentence.

  4. mjkj Says:

    Woah, nice πŸ™‚

    Well, they seem to come closer and to support each other quite nicely πŸ˜€

    *hugs Starry*

    mjkj

  5. Melanie Says:

    anonymus – you’re welcome! πŸ˜€

    Targetdrone – pfff, you already love a machine! You know you do. πŸ˜‰ (BSG is pretty awesome, too.)

    Kunama – thanks for that! Reworked that paragraph about the dome a bit; I think it reads more clearly now. Let me know what you think!

    mjkj – thanks! I love writing these two; their conversations are so much fun. Almost as much about what they don’t say as what they do. πŸ™‚

  6. Marcus Says:

    Such a nice moment to read before I head off to the salt mines for my shift, pre-Thanksgiving madness at a grocery store… *shudder*
    Keep up the wonderful work.

  7. eduardo Says:

    Cute couple.
    Thanks for the excellent tale.

  8. Bobby Says:

    “a couple of paces, small dog made of black code’
    a small dog

    “Yeah, no problems too report.”
    to report

    So, DID Starry check out that virtua-vid code to upgrade her avatar’s sense of “touch” and make it more realistic? πŸ˜›