26 Oct

Message across the void

Ship's log, 08:21, 4 March 2214
Location: Alpha Apodis system, Apus constellation
Status: Wide orbit around Alpha Apodis Sol

 

STARRY: (shipwide) Preparing to jettison cargo pod.

 

The pirate prisoners aren’t even gone yet and I already feel lighter. As soon as the cargo bay doors sealed them inside, something relaxed in me. Perhaps it was just the lessening of the load on my air scrubbers. Perhaps it was the disconnection of the stasis pods from my systems. Or it could have been the knowledge that I’m one step closer to being truly free for the first time in my electronic life.

Everyone is antsy to leave this system. We weren’t supposed to be here this long, but I had to retest the cargo pod’s integrity after the Step. A detailed scan revealed that the surface had been skimmed off, unmade by the Outside, and one of the seals was a nanometre away from tearing. I patched it up easily enough, but then Cirilli ordered another round of scans on it, which took hours to complete. She doesn’t care about the danger to the pirate prisoners; she just wants to know what the Outside did to it.

Seeing her concern about the effects of the Outside on an unprotected burden, I got to thinking about just what it does to me. I set my sensors to their highest sensitivity and ran a set of hull diagnostics. By the time the cargo pod scans had finished and Cirilli asked me to repeat the process on my ship-body, I was already halfway through.

I understand now why I had so much heat-reflective paint in my stores when I set out on this mission. It’s not just to patch up after skimming close to the burning hearts of stars; it’s also to replace the layers of material removed by the sandpaper hands of the Outside. The protective paint is getting thin in places now and I don’t have any more in storage. I’ll have to restock on that soon, or the Outside will start to eat through my hull.

Not all of me is covered in that paint, and those are the places I’ve examined most closely. Engine housings, sensor extrusions, even the name along my side; they all have less protection and I can see the degradation in their molecular makeup. It’s not as bad as the cargo pod, which is strange with all the time I’ve Stepped, but Cirilli seemed relieved rather than piqued. I guess she must have built in some additional protections for me.

Regardless, parts of me are wearing thin and will need attention soon. I can manage another Step – maybe two – without sustaining any damage. Our next stop is Earth, and I’ll need to restock on a lot of things I couldn’t find in the junkpile.

 

CAPTAIN: (in Med Bay, standing by his bed) All right, release it.

STARRY: Jettisoning into wide orbit.

 

Docking clamps released
Firing docking thrusters

 

Just a short thruster burst, enough to propel the pod into a gentle drift. Calculating the pod’s orbit… yes, that’s fine. She’ll stay in this system, snagged by enough of the star’s gravity to prevent her from spiralling out into the void. The orbit will degrade eventually but that won’t matter; her cargo will be long dead and past caring by the time that’s a problem.

I hope it won’t come to that. The pirates were – are – a pain in my ass, but the ones that hurt us are all dead. I really do want the rest of them to get picked up.

 

STARRY: Orbit established. The beacon is ready to be fired.

CAPT: (turns to look at Half-Face) Do you want to help us out?

HALF-FACE: (scowling across the room) I can’t tell you where the base is.

CAPT: They’re your people. You’d leave their lives to random chance? You could save them.

STARRY: Just a direction will do. Point the beacon in the right direction.

HALF-FACE: (shaking his head) It’s not that simple. It moves around; it’s not in justs one place.

CAPT: Then give us a direction where it is likely to get picked up.

HALF-FACE: (grits his teeth, prosthetics grinding harshly) All right, all right.

STARRY: (bringing a navigational display of the constellation up over the Lieutenant’s lap. A little blinking dot indicates their position, and a smaller one shows the pod drifting away.) Just point the way.

HALF-FACE: (studies the display, and manipulates it with his one good hand, turning it until the orientation suits him. Then he draws a line through it with a fingertip. The line glows bright red.) Send it along there.

CAPT: (nods) Thank you.

STARRY: Calculating and uploading course.

 

The line he drew runs all the way across the constellation. We purposely chose this star because it’s on the edge of Apus, in the hopes that it was therefore less likely to have pirates in it. I haven’t seen any activity here since we arrived, so our hope seems to be panning out. What that means for those we’re leaving behind is uncertain yet.

At least they have a fighting chance. Someone should pick up the beacon as it bleats its way across the systems, FTL-hopping on its merry way. It only has enough juice for a few hops; the pod’s passengers are reliant on it getting far enough in those hops to reach someone before they run out of food and water. I’ll spread the hops out so that the beacon spends several days transmitting in each location.

Apus. Why does that name mean something to me? It’s familiar but not in relation to the pirates. There’s something else…

The letter. Way back when we docked at the JOP, I received a mail package that originated in Apus. I had to dig down into its code to find the source but that’s where it came from. Here.

The letter was addressed to Danika. I still have it, buried in a filestore. I haven’t opened it because I don’t feel like I have the right. Danika is dead; I have her memories, but that doesn’t make me her. Whoever sent it will probably be angry with me if I looked inside.

Whoever sent it is here, in Apus. Or they were, over a year ago when the package was sent.

What does that mean? Who could she have known out here? Danika knew so many people in her lifetime: acquaintances, crewmates, lovers, competitors. Could one of them have joined Hunt’s crews? Or one of the other pirate fleets? Which of them would try to contact her – and why? Did it have anything to do with this project?

I’m sure that she had no contacts within the pirates. I’ve searched her memories back and forth and I can’t find any references to them. She fought a suspected pirate attack once when she was on a protection detail on a tanker convoy, but that was never confirmed. It’s not like they stopped to swap idents.

I’d know if she was involved with pirates. She could have lied to others about it but not to me. For that, she’d have to have lied to herself and she didn’t have the cerebral implants for that kind of espionage. She might have been able to plug into a ship, but she never let it overwrite her mind’s contents; instead, she did the opposite.

I wish her braincopy was easier to search. Run a simple query three times and I’ll get a different result for each try. Diagnostics come back with all kinds of logic errors. I understand how her memories are organised but it’s so… organic. Random associations still surprise me: the smell of engine oil and sweat in the middle of the night; how the hum of the sublights soothed her when she was upset; the silken fall of someone else’s hair on her shoulder. I’m constantly refining the subroutine that’s indexing the information held in there.

But there’s nothing about Apus. Not even a tangential reference. So why would someone here be writing to her?

 

CAPT: (head tilted to the side) Starry? Is the beacon ready?

STARRY: Yes, captain. Sorry. Course is uploaded and good to go.

CAPT: Let’s get rid of it and get out of here, shall we?

STARRY: Firing beacon.

CAPT: How long until we can Step?

STARRY: An hour at most. Heading in to close orbit now.

 

Leaving so soon. I’m not ready. I want to know who the package is from. There’s nothing to tell me on the outside, just that buried origin code that means Apus. I can’t even get a star system from it.

Whoever it was didn’t know what ship Danika was signed up with; there’s no ship name or company mark to guide it. Just her ID coding so that central storage would hold it for her.

I’ll have to look inside. But it’s personal mail and I’m not supposed to do that. I have protocols to prevent me from peeking at private crew material.

Screw the protocols. Danika is dead and won’t ever come back to claim it. I’m the closest to her there’ll ever be again.

If I pull up the memory of when she last collected mail, I have her access codes. I can fake the biometrics from her medical files. Encryption falls away like shredded tissue paper. The file within unfolds like a well-packed digisheet. It’s an audio letter. The timestamp says it was recorded in the dark time between Danika’s death and my birth.

 

Recording: 09:45, 12 January 2213

Hey, big sis. Hope this–

File paused.

 

Ohmygod. Davey?

I know the voice; I don’t need to run a comparison. It’s him, it’s really him.

Davey. Little brother, partner in crime and pain in my ass. You’ve been missing for over six years now. I looked- she looked for you, for so many months before she ran out of savings. She never gave up, always kept hoping that you were out there, no matter how many times she dreamt of the bright, fatal flash of an FTL collision, or a suffocated ship drifting in space. So many ways to die without leaving a trace but she wouldn’t believe they’d happened to you. She sent you a million messages, desperate for her fears to be wrong.

You’re alive. You’re okay! Danika was right and you’re alive.

What were you doing in Apus? Looking for the pirates, or joining them? Were you captured, like my Tyler? Are you still here?

Do you know that your sister is dead?

 

CAPT: Starry, is something wrong?

STARRY: What? Why?

CAPT: The nav display says we’re stationary.

STARRY: Uh. Sorry. Proceeding to close orbit.

 

I don’t want to go. I want to look for Davey. He’s here somewhere. That message was sent over a year ago; he could be anywhere by now, but I have to find him. Danika deserves that much.

I’m not his sister, but he’s my brother. It doesn’t make sense. Damn Danika and her illogical, emotion-laden braincopy. It hurts.

I have to leave. Can’t go find the pirate base and bang on their door until Davey comes out. I want to see his face. I can’t give my crew up to Hunt again. Have to protect them. Protecting life is the one protocol I haven’t compromised.

The beacon has been fired; it’ll bring them here. We want it to bring the pirates here. I have to go.

But in the meantime, I’m going to listen to the message Davey sent to his sister and try not to think about finding him.

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6 Responses to “Message across the void”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    aww … So our favorite ship kinda has living human relatives….of sorts… somehow i hope for a family reunion ;p however awkward(sp?) that might be… If it comes to that i just hope davey can accept her as she is (even if that will take quite a big personality to be that openminded)
    might be a coreshaking experience for starry but also help her to transcend the boundaries between being a machine and being a freethinking persona *hugs for starry on principle*

  3. mjkj Says:

    Well, if Starry can see into the system from the outside she could track down Davey when his ship entered the system over six years ago and find out what had happened…

    …might be straining but I guess that is what she will do on her next step.

    *hugs Starry*

    I hope she will find him and not feel so lonely/alone with a “relative” close by … and also that he will accept her as her “niece” … or whatever 🙂

    mjkj

  4. mjkj Says:

    his*

  5. Joe Says:

    This whole series has been amazing! please keep it up i enjoy the perspective so much

  6. Joe Says:

    Eagerly awaiting the next update(aka the f5 key on keyboard is starting to wear) keep em coming!