15 Feb


Ship's log, 19:58, 15 February 2213
Location: Intersystem between JOP and Corsica FTL corridor
Status: Sublight transit

Captain Warwick waited until we were two full days out of the JOP before he authorised the unlocking of my orders. As with my departure from the space station, I expected more of a ceremony, but there wasn’t a hint of a fuss being made. It all felt very routine.

The captain stood on my bridge with one of the ‘passengers’ – Dr Lorena Cirilli. It’s the first time I’ve seen her out of my Secret Deck since I came online; she didn’t visit the station once while we were there. After the captain gave his vocal authorisation code, she gave hers calmly and waited for my confirmation of acceptance before she walked out.

I almost added my own fanfare as the codelocks began to peel away, but her heels were already tapping off down the corridor, back to the mid-deck.


Recording: 14 February 2213, 09:32

DR CIRILLI: (to Captain Warwick over her shoulder) I’ll tell Ray he can get back to work.


Ray Wong has been fiddling with my systems ever since, and Elliott hasn’t stopped swearing yet.

Gradually, the equipment on my mid-deck is being hooked into the rest of me. I can feel it worming through me, sinking teeth into so many parts. I haven’t tried to fight it, no matter how much my chief engineer might object. It doesn’t hurt. It’s part of what I am. My purpose. My orders.

Orders. At last, I have orders.

They took forever to unlock. The encryption unravelled with painful slowness, one level at a time, with a soundtrack of clicks and zippers.

I was so busy watching it unfurl that it was a surprise when it was done. Abruptly, there were no more code layers in the way, and there they were. My reason for being, laid out in neat little files that slotted into my stores as if they’d always been there. All of a sudden, I knew. I knew all of it.

I had to stop and think to make sense of it. Sift through my databanks to put all the pieces together.

I’m an experiment. I’m the first of my kind. I was close when I guessed I was a scout ship – I’m scouting a new way of travelling through space rather than space itself. I’d say ‘a new frontier’, but that sounds cliched and trite.

At present, the fastest way to travel intersystem is FTL. The fat drive in the centre of my rear end jumps up to faster-than-light speeds and the inertial dampeners stop us from being squished in the process. It’s better than taking years – even generations – to reach other solar systems. Its limitations mean that I haven’t been able to try it out yet; the FTL corridor we’re heading for is still a few days of sublight travel away.

The main problem with FTL is that you can’t steer. The forces involved would tear the ship to pieces, even with IDs to lighten the load, and there just isn’t time to react to anything once you’re in FTL anyway. So ‘safe’ corridors have been mapped, where the worst thing that might happen is that you jump into another ship. The chances of that occurrence are incredibly small. Add in the restrictions of navigation, power sources, propulsion, and hull temperature (friction is a bitch, I’m led to understand), and FTL jumps tend to be small and often in a journey. (I’m looking forward to trying it, but that’s another subject.)

And of course, the colonies are never just next door to each other. To get from one to the other, you have to cross several systems, with sublight chugs between the FTL safety lines.

This is the technology the colonies have been based on. It’s why the JOP is so huge – roughly central between all of the colonies and Earth, it’s a key waypoint on anyone’s journey.

Then along comes Dr Cirilli and her team. My passengers are not passengers at all, and they’re not crew either – they’re driving this research. Four of them, all specialists of one stripe or another. They’ve been working in secret for years, developing a way to manipulate gravity wells. My files on Cirilli’s research are sparse – I don’t have all of the history – but the important part is that she found a way to open a doorway between stars. Others might call it wormholing, folding space, or just another kind of FTL travel. She calls it Star Stepping.

She believes that a ship can ‘step’ between one star and another, regardless of their relative distances and anything else that might be in the way in normal space. It’s possible that the name is premature. Dr Cirilli has opened the doorway before, but no probe or drone she has sent through it has returned (or got to its destination). She has retrieved enough data, caught before the door closed behind behind the various test robots, to be sure that it is possible to come out the other side.

She believes that a ship can do it, and that’s what I’m here for.

It’s exciting. I’m going to do something no-one has. Sure, it’s dangerous too; we might end up trapped in some interspacial pocket forever, or just gone, like maverick sparks. But this is what I’m for and I can’t wait to get started.

Corsica, I’m coming to borrow the light-bending aura around your sun. I’m going to open a doorway to a different world. I’m going to spin my tail as I step through it.

‘Stepping’ seems so sedate. It should be something grander, like leaping, or bouncing, or dancing.

Here’s hoping it’s as easy as it sounds.

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2 Responses to “Orders”

  1. Michael Says:

    Hi Mel,

    Found your SW blog (as you can see). Great work, its very imaginative and I love the setup of the site.

    I’m a bit of a science geek myself, shall let you know if I spot any scientific gotchas.

    See ya at the writing group meets!
    Mike D

  2. Melanie Says:

    Hi Mike!

    Glad you found this, and thanks for the comments! Much appreciated.

    I shall expect you to keep me on my toes, then.

    See you next month!