29 Sep

More than

Ship's log, 10:57, 29 September 2213
Location: Intersystem between the JOP and Corvus FTL Corridor
Status: Sublight transit


I feel like I’m going backwards. Dr Cirilli insisted that we need to repeat at least one of our previous Steps, for ‘scientific confirmation’. She had a long, drawn-out argument with the captain about it – it took her a long time to convince him that it was worth the risk, and from the looks on their faces when she came out of his cabin, they didn’t work out their differences in bed.

John isn’t close to forgiving her yet. I hadn’t realised just how attached to truth and honour he was until he found out that Cirilli had kept something important from him. That issue never came up between him and Danika, mostly because she didn’t have anything big to lie about. Certainly nothing that would impact the entire crew.

His anger makes sense now that I think about it, though; he is always wound up in the bigger picture. It’s part of how he became captain so young – according to his records, he was only twenty-seven when he was given his first ship. A scout with a crew of five, who stayed alive and together for four years before he moved on to a bigger commission. He didn’t lose a single crewmember for over twelve years, to death, misadventure or another ship – an impressive record considering that it’s common for people to move between ships every two or three years. And then… something happened. His records have a gaping, classified hole in them, but I know he lost someone. The hole feels shaped that way.

I wonder if he was lied to then, too. Or if he’s still so raw from that incident that the risk of not being able to captain properly has freaked him out. Not that he seems freaked out – he doesn’t wander around the ship snapping at people, or delving into recreational drugs to take the edge off, or making weird demands at four in the morning. Instead, he’s quiet and withdrawn, the way he was just after I first woke up. When he was mourning Danika. Cradling his hurt.

I never realised that John and I are so similar. Not the mourning part – Danika’s reaction to losing someone was to find the fastest, most dangerous ship to fly and push its limits until something broke. Her emotional reactions went outwards, not inwards. I mean that we’re similar in that our jobs are important to us. I want to be a good ship: I want to look after my crew and fulfil my mission to test the Star Step drive for the company. John wants to be a good captain for us. He wants to lead us in the right direction and makes sure we all get there in one piece. He wants to complete our mission with everyone intact.

But that shouldn’t be all he is. I’m supposed to be a good ship – it’s hard-coded into my programming. Danika’s influence interferes sometimes, but her personality doesn’t negate that part of my code; even she took pride in being a good pilot. More than all of that, I am a ship, and I can’t be anything else. I don’t come off-duty, put down my shiply duties and prop my tailfins on someone else’s table. All day, every day, I am what I am and I can’t change it.

John Warwick isn’t just a captain. He can go off-duty, and he can choose to change his position if he wants to. He’s supposed to have hobbies and a personal life. Okay, I didn’t like him screwing Cirilli and I’m not sorry that their relationship has broken apart under the weight of her secret, but at least it meant that he had something more than this job. He should be more than a ship’s captain.

I think that’s part of what attracted Danika to him when they started this mission. He had a hollow in his life and she was drawn to it. At first she was curious about all the things he carried with him, but he didn’t give anything away. She hadn’t meant to fill up that space for him, hadn’t meant for it to be anything but casual; by the time she realised what was happening between them, she’d discovered that she liked it. She was more surprised than anyone else was.

Now he’s back where he started. Back to how Danika saw him when they met, but with a raw edge. The hurt is fresher. He’s withdrawing a little more each day, closing down when conversations move away from the strictly business. He spends all of his time in his cabin or on the Bridge, going over reports.

It’s frustrating. I want to do something for him, but I can’t think of anything. I’m just a ship now; I can’t be anything but his job. I can’t put my arms around him and tell him it’s okay. I’m still pretending to be a normal AI (Elliott doesn’t want to risk my ‘return’ until we’re clear of the JOP’s region), so I can’t even try to be his friend when he’s on the Bridge. Not that he’s looking for a friend. Sometimes, I think he prefers the dry, non-commital computer voice I put on. I hope I’m wrong about that.

Cirilli isn’t even trying to repair things with him. She’s retreating back into her research, stepping into the shell of a focussed scientist with only her work at stake. She talks animatedly with her staff, sternly with John, and not at all to the rest of the crew.

It’s like none of them know each other any more. We’ve gone back to the beginning. But I’m still a broken AI with human memories and feelings, Elliott still has nightmares every night (thanks to Tripi’s brain-hack), and the gaps are from too much familiarity rather than not enough.

Yesterday, I started to ponder if maybe the mail we received when we were near the JOP contributed to it. Touches of the crew’s previous lives, word from other parts of the galaxy, reminders that there’s more to their world than my decks and my crew. Maybe they’ve been having second thoughts. There’s a part of me that’s jealous of them for having those windows into all the things I can’t do any more.

I can’t look at the contents of the mail, but I can see who they’re from and to. John didn’t get any personal mail; all of his was from the company or the Judiciary. Everyone else got at least one packet from friends or family – usually more. There are only two that haven’t been opened. One of them is for Elliott. I checked and he knows it’s there, but he wouldn’t talk about it.

The other one would have made my heartbeat skip uncomfortably when I noticed it, if I had a heartbeat. It’s addressed to Danika. I hadn’t even realised it was there; usually, I just file the mail away and let the crew pick it up at their leisure. It’s been sitting there for weeks, unnoticed, unopened, oblivious.

Someone doesn’t know she’s dead. Or they didn’t seven months ago when they sent it. That was just after I woke up. Danika had been dead for weeks by then; months even. There’s no sender’s name attached, no company code wrapping the package. The sender’s address is a communications outpost in the Apus constellation – far from any of the colonies. Even with Danika’s memories at my disposal, I can’t think who would be sending her mail, never mind from way out there.

It wasn’t even addressed to her last known location aboard the Starwalker – it just has her name and her public ID code on it. The central comms system at the JOP held it until I arrived and passed it through. They shouldn’t have. She’s dead. It should have been returned to sender. I should never have received it at all.

I don’t know what to do with it. If I think hard enough, I could find Danika’s code for opening it. I don’t think I have the right. That girl is gone. But she’s not. That letter is a piece of the life that ended. It’s also a piece of my past.

Should I send something back to say that sorry, she’s not here any more? But to do that, I’d need to know who’d sent it, and I’d have to open it to find that out, and… it’s not fair. It’s not fair to give me this thing to cradle in my hands and be afraid to break.

Who would be sending her mail? Her previous captain, because he found the prank she’d left in the pilot’s chair for her successor? The fella she had a fling with on her last stay on Dyne? (He was a little clingy when she shipped out.) Family? She lost her father a few years ago, and she hasn’t heard from her brother in years.

I should ask someone. But the captain is too wound up in his own issues, and Elliott… Elliott would tell me not to bother. Whoever it is must know she’s dead by now, so why dig up the past when I don’t need to? Maletz would tell me to open it, just to see what I did when I saw what was inside. Rosie would have no idea what the problem was. Tyler would offer to look at it for me. Cameron would tell me that it was illegal for me to open mail that’s not addressed to me. Cirilli, Ebling and Wong wouldn’t care. Lang Lang… I have no idea. She’d tell me to do what I felt was right, probably. But I don’t know what feels right!

It’s a little orange lozenge that I keep sucking on, but it never gets any smaller. Peering at it doesn’t make it transparent. Not even enough to give me a clue about what I should do.

Legally, I should delete it. Just get rid of it – problem solved. I even get so far as hovering a virtual finger over the button, but I can’t do it. It’s addressed to someone I was once. Parts of her are attached to it. Parts of me are attached to it. I feel like deleting it would delete some of who Danika is.

It doesn’t make sense. I don’t make sense. There’s no guidebook for something like me. I’m making it up as I go, but I’m only nine months old.

And maybe, just maybe, this letter could make me more than just a ship. I’m already too much. Why aren’t there any easy answers for this stuff?

Just focus on the job, silly ship. My nose is pointed towards the Minkar system and my engines are burning bright. I’m going back the way I came, to see if I can retrace my steps, to unthread the needle. Or make a new stitch, perhaps.

File away that stupid package and focus on the job. Be what I’m supposed to be now. I have a mission open before me, and a crew who love me enough to stay, despite all the risks. What ship needs more?

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3 Responses to “More than”

  1. daymon34 Says:

    Ships may not need more, but as a human AI I think Starry will. And she should get it when she can talk to her crew like she was before. At least one of the bigger drones didn’t go and hug the captain, that could have hurt him.

    I just hope that letter isn’t somekind of bug ment to hurt her.

  2. Melanie Says:

    Hee. Luckily for everyone, Starry has been suppressing her influence on the drones while she’s playing the proper AI. Don’t worry, it won’t last.

    Ooo, I hadn’t thought about the letter being malicious like that. Interesting notion. I will definitely keep it in mind. 🙂

  3. Eduardo Says:

    Well, the first thing that I thought was: malicious mail. I hope it isn´t. And, she needs a better antivirus plus anti spyware system.