28 Nov


Ship's log, 14:22, 1 May 2214
Location: Dyne to Alpha Centauri FTL corridor
Status: Sublight transit


Here I am, treading the back-trails of the universe. We are almost to the next stop on our journey: the Alpha Centauri system. It is the meeting-place of the first FTL corridors that were ever charted.

Once upon a time, it was believed that Alpha Centauri would become the nexus of the colony network. Then the JOP was established as a resupply station between Earth and the first colonies of Broken Hill and Panispila Mundi. It was positioned in the empty space between constellations, roughly the same distance from the home planet and each of the new colonies. As the JOP was built out and the FTL corridors connecting to it were charted, Alpha Centauri fell more and more into disuse, and its FTL paths shared its fate.

No-one comes this way any more. It doesn’t link up to the official colonies very directly, and the paths from here don’t lead to places most people would find interesting. Lang Lang had to dig into navigation chart archives to find these corridors – I wasn’t even aware we had charts that old – and then she had to update them with the current star positions and account for shifting anomalies. She spent days running calculations to see if the corridors would still be clear after all these years. Eventually, she found us an alternate route out to Corsica; one that avoided the heavily-travelled corridors around the JOP with its wealth of Judiciary.

It’s still risky to take these old roads. Who knows what might have happened over the past century or so to put debris in our way? Travelling at FTL speeds, we’d never see an object in time to dodge, and even dust clouds are dangerous. But we’ve come this far and nothing untoward has happened yet, so we’ll keep going. It seems to be how we do things.

My FTL drive will be charged up in two more minutes, and I’ll be able to take the last leap to the end of the corridor. I can feel the reaction kindling in my tail, preparing to punch me into the next system.

I’m a little nervous about getting to Alpha Centauri. We plan to pause here before taking the FTL corridor out to the edge of the Canis Minor constellation, where Corsica lies. The pause is so Elliott can switch out my ident, turn me into the new Starwalker, and sever the company ties that bind me to Is-Tech.

I’ll be my own ship, though not exactly my own master. I’ll still have a captain and a mission. I’ll still have orders to follow and protocols to engage. But I’ll know that we’re doing the right thing for the right reasons, and I guess that makes all the difference.

After this pause, I won’t have to hide any more. I won’t have to worry about Judiciary ships or sensor outposts. I won’t have to watch the news like a hawk in case a bulletin about me comes over the transmissions. And I’ll be able to get close to Feras without any alarms being raised, which is what we’re focussing on right now.

Of course, after we do that, our anonymity will be broken; our new-found freedom will only last until I do something that brings me to the Judiciary’s attention again, under my new ident. Like attacking Is-Tech and its colony at Feras, destroying equipment and data, and ending any chance of anyone ever building a Star Step drive again. It’s possible we might need to switch my ident again after that. Should we have bought a second one, for us to use after all of this?

It’s not like we’ve given a lot of thought to what happens after this war of ours is over. I’m trying not to think about it, or the yawning gape of possibilities and purposelessness that open up before me. I’m trying not to think about what the logical end of this war will mean for me: I am, after all, the ship who embodies this project we’re setting out to destroy. I don’t know if the captain has thought about all this, if he’s taken this war to its logical conclusion.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to think about that yet. So many miles to go before I sleep; so much work to do before I can lay my burdens down.

And I’m afraid that if I think about it too much, I might turn away from this path. I can’t do that, and I won’t. I have to get this right, for all of us, for Kess, and for the Earth that has fallen in our wake.

I haven’t told the crew about the news I received shortly before we left Dyne’s system. The call for ships changed: what had been a general call for assistance – for medical care and emergency rescues – changed to a call for ships able to evacuate large numbers of people from the planet and transport them out of the Home system. The undercurrent beneath the official notices says that they’re giving up on Earth. They’re trying to get as many people off-planet as possible, to save them, because there would be no chance if they stayed. No doubt the companies are trying to salvage what they can of their assets, too. Where will all the refugees go? To the colonies? Do they even have room for so many lost souls? What about resources to support them?

I guess we’ll find out soon. As news of the damage on Earth rolls out across the colony network, and as the survivor lists are published, we’ll have to draw the picture between the official lines for ourselves. We’ll have to work out just what we caused back there. I don’t think any of us will like what we see. We might have healed Terra Sol, but the effects of her instability are still rolling out across the Home System. In many awful ways, we’re to blame for all that’s happening there.

The captain doesn’t want the crew to find out just yet. He thinks it will damage morale, and I agree. After the deaths of Ebling and Swann, everyone is adjusting to our smaller crew situation. The weight of the scientific work now falls entirely on Cirilli’s shoulders, and she’s struggling under the weight. Rosie and Cameron are all that’s left of my Security Officers. I’m going to war with fewer and fewer warriors.

I have more empty quarters on my decks; Waldo and Casper have cleared out Ebling and Swann’s belongings, packed them into spare crates in a cargo bay for returning to their families. Right now, they’re still working on scrubbing the quarters clean, removing all traces that anyone stayed there. I want to stop them; I want to be able to look at those rooms and remember who stayed there. But I don’t want to remember their blood on my decks, or the message that would have betrayed our intentions to the company.

Soon, there won’t be any signs that Ebling and Swann were here at all, apart from a couple of occupied cryo tubes and a handful of boxes in storage.

Maybe one day I’ll have someone else in those rooms. Maybe I’ll find crewmembers I can trust, and they’ll complete the cleansing of my quarters. Fill up those parts of me with new memories. Fonder ones. Except that my electronic-crystalline brain will always have the archives of Ebling and Swann, the way it does of Tripi and Levi. Some stains never come out, not completely.

The quarters that used to belong to Tripi are now being used by the Lieutenant. It seemed fitting when I assigned it to him, as she was working for the Lieutenant’s people all the time she was here, but now it doesn’t seem quite so appropriate. My pirate guest hasn’t caused any trouble, even though he has reason to. I’m starting to feel better about the occupant of that room.

That’s not the only thing changing under my skin. Since he got done with examining the new equipment, Elliott has been busy starting with my refit. I have bulkheads peeled back on my upper deck, and circuitry shifted out of the way to make room for new weapons to slide in under my hull. My heavy drones have been cutting hatches into hull plates, ready to replace the smooth, unbroken surface of my skin. I’ve got newer, heavier lasers being fastened into place, and a strange weapon I’ve never seen before (it’s supposed to disable a ship’s systems) ready to be buried into my belly, where it won’t interfere with my own workings.

I’m in pieces, partway through a transformation and looking a little bit like Frankenstein’s monster. Yesterday, the first of the new weapons came online and it was disorienting. It was like I could feel it humming: a hot needle in my flesh, eager to leap out and strike something. But the external access hasn’t been put on yet, so it just crouches there, hidden, waiting. Pricking at me.

I’m helping out with the refit as best I can. I’m lacing the new equipment into the weapons consoles on the Bridge, and adding new consoles to allow coverage for all the defensive and offensive capabilities that will be at our disposal.

Positioning the weapons is proving to be a challenge, because of the filaments that lie along the surface of my hull. Their channels are necessary for the Star Step drive to work, and while I won’t be Stepping again, I still need the drive’s capabilities to fix the damage we caused to the stars. So we’re sliding ports and hatches in between the filaments’ lines, making me prickly with ordinance.

I’m not sure how I feel about it all. I should mind, but the aesthetics just don’t matter that much to me. I can’t help but wonder if I’m going to be a good warship; Elliott assures me that I will but I don’t have his confidence. I’ve shot at things before, but never people, never ships. I’ve never sought to take lives.

Maybe it won’t come to that. I can hope, can’t I? No, I have to be prepared. Is-Tech won’t lie down and let me do this. I’m going to need to defend myself, and I’m going to need to be on the offensive. Cameron has been building battle scenarios with Feras as a centre-piece. None of them show it going down easily or quietly.

There’s so much to do. We need to remove my wings and build more weapons into them, which we’ll do one at a time. We need to seal off sections of my decks so we can replace hull plates. We need to bulk up my power resources and beef up some of my internal systems so that I can run all of these new weapons without overheating or burning out. And then we have to adjust my thrusters to make sure that I don’t spin out when I fire all my new toys.

At least I’ve already recalibrated my engines to account for the extra mass. That was the easy part.

The work is going slowly so far, mostly because Elliott isn’t working day and night to do it. I’ve got Casper and Bit coordinating to make sure he’s eating properly, and he’s going to bed when I ask him to. He’s still pale and recovering from his sickness, and I guess that’s making the difference to him right now. Still, it’s a little weird not having to fight him to make him look after himself.

It was a little weird kissing him, too. It felt strange but… good. It wasn’t like anything my ship-self has done before. Sometimes I get flutters of sensation that translate from the human side of my consciousness into my physical self, like feeling dustbunnies crawling in my ducts when I’m nervous about something. But this doesn’t translate. This isn’t ship. It makes me warm and fluttery and safe and soft. When I think about it, I feel myself smiling. Like a silly young girl.

Danika was never giddy like this. Not over a guy; over flying, maybe, but that was different. This isn’t the result of her memories sliding into the present, though her influence has to be behind it. Her braincopy, the sensations she remembers, muddled up into a new pattern. It’s one of the gifts she gave me.

And it’s ridiculous. I’m a ship. I can’t… what? I don’t even know what this is. I’m not sure what I want this to be. I don’t want to question it too much in case it evaporates before me.

All that matters is that Elliott is doing okay, and he smiles at me sometimes, and we’re moving in the right direction.

Speaking of which, it’s time for the final FTL jump to Alpha Centauri. And then we’ll change my ident and the new Starwalker will really start to take shape.

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2 Responses to “Metamorphosis”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Have a good FTL to Alpha, Starry 🙂


  2. Marcus Says:

    A lovely entry. Our Starry is growing up.