05 Oct

Ouroboros

Ship's log, 19:25, 28 February 2214
Location: Junkpile, Lambda 1 system
Status: Stationary

 

Getting the crew’s agreement to break away from Is-Tech was only the first question the captain needs to pose tonight. The second is where we go next.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. From here, our next destination is the Apus constellation to drop off our unwanted passengers. That frees us up to go anywhere we choose (explaining prisoners is so awkward that it’s best to avoid having to).

The real question is where we go after Apus. We don’t want to hang around in that area, particularly as the half-faced Lieutenant won’t tell us which system the pirate base is in. We’ll be relying on luck to land us in a safe zone, so I have to be ready to Step out again as quickly as possible. We’ll stay only long enough to drop the cargo pod and fire off the beacon and I have to know exactly where to take us next.

It’s not like I can come back here to regroup.

 

CAMERON: What’s the plan, captain?

CAPT: Head to Dyne, Stepping back a couple of years. Just far enough for no-one to be looking for us yet. There, we can sort out the ident, and–

CIRILLI: We can’t do that.

CAPT: (unruffled but suppressing a sigh) Why not?

CIRILLI: We shouldn’t be so casual about messing around in our own timeline. We don’t know what repercussions it might have.

EBLING: (frowning at her) We haven’t seen any evidence of temporal disturbance.

CIRILLI: Actually, we have. (She hesitates, glancing around the Mess Hall.) We’ve already affected our timeline. When I was doing research on Earth, I observed a gravitational distortion on the edge of Terra Sol. The data from that disturbance formed the basis of this project. Earlier this month, we created that disturbance when we Stepped into the Home system’s history. (She pauses uncomfortably.) The Star Step project created itself.

 

Oh, wow.

I’m a paradox. I created myself. Does that make me my own mother? Or like Ouroboros, devouring and creating myself at the same time?

If I’m not careful, I’m going to fry my own logic processors with this stuff.

So that’s why she was so weird after she learned about that particular time-Step. She’s been snapping at her team and muttering over Step data since then. Now she’s scared of what will happen if we skip around in time.

What else could we do if we did? Can I change history? Could I save Danika? Could I stop the destruction of the Storm Warden, her father’s ship? Am I caught in the path that has already been set before me, or have I broken free of the bounds of time, able to make my own rules?

Uh oh, I’m not the only one reacting to this news.

 

EBLING: (furious) Why didn’t you tell me!

CIRILLI: I was collating the readings and checking facts before making it public.

EBLING: Public? I’m part of the team.

CIRILLI: (closes her lips and just looks at him.)

EBLING: (shakes his head sharply) We could create a paradox.

CIRILLI: We don’t have enough data to know, not yet. The time dimension wasn’t factored into the experiments.

CAPT: (interjecting) Just how dangerous could this be?

EBLING: Anything from ‘not at all’ to ‘we broke the universe’. If what Dr Cirilli said is right, then we know our actions directly affect this universe, but that only rules out some of the safer theories. Though many believe that the universe-ending paradoxes must be impossible, or we already wouldn’t be here.

 

From the expressions around the room, many are not following the logic of the conversation. Ebling has a point; if we could (and are going to) create a paradox that ends the universe and obliterates all of time and space, we wouldn’t be here. Destroying all of time means destroying now, and, well, ‘now’ exists.

That assumes that the destruction of the universe is clean. Maybe we’re trapped in a bubble, a last shard of space and time about to pop. How can we tell?

Wait, we can tell. Of course we can.

 

STARRY: If it helps, the end of the universe isn’t any time soon.

CAPT: You can know that?

LANG LANG: (perks up) Yes! The star paths. They extend far past where – when – we are now. Billions of years past.

STARRY: I see them when I Step, on the Outside. Past and future.

LANG LANG: (subsiding into a frown) Except for Grisette.

CAPT: What?

LANG LANG: Grisette no longer exists. Disappeared from the star charts about fifty-three years ago. She just winked out one day.

 

That explains why the navigation specialist has been poring over the star chart archives so much; she must have been tracking down the history of that particular star. Grisette was the first star I Stepped to, the first success of this project, a destination grabbed in panic. I can’t believe that I didn’t notice that her path was so short, even though not even all the databanks in the colonies could hold charts of the Outside. All I can keep on file is basic nav data, only a fraction of what’s out there.

There’s sadness descending over the Mess Hall like a cloud. Cirilli is frowning; I guess she’s just realised that we can’t repeat my first Step now, not without sliding in time again, and that means her data is unrepeatable and unverifiable. More tests she can’t do. This project hasn’t exactly gone how a scientific investigation should have. I guess that’s what you get for doing something illegal that snags the attention of pirates.

 

CAPT: (cutting over the quiet) So you’re advising that we avoid Stepping in time for now?

CIRILLI: Yes. Until we can understand the implications more.

CAPT: So we need a contemporary destination.

ROSIE: (scowling) Dyne’s tricky, then. Crawling with Judiciary. People say that’s where their armour’s made – they build it right into the Justiciars. (She shudders, fingers digging at the skin on her forearm and feeling over where her implants lie on the bone.)

CAMERON: We should keep our visit there as short as possible.

CAPT: Hacking the ident shouldn’t take that long, but we need to have the new company set up beforehand. We can go elsewhere for that.

ROSIE: What about Corusc? The leisure colony-ship. They don’t like the Judiciary there.

ELLIOTT: (shaking his head) Have to be someplace on the colony network, or the company registration won’t be passed through to the central systems. Corusc drops out of contact a lot.

CAMERON: (nods in agreement) That’s part of its appeal for certain parties. And Hunt’s people will likely be familiar with it; it has heavy ties with the Americas crime families.

CAPT: And while we might be able to pay them off, we need the colony network.

CAMERON: Earth may be viable as a destination. It’s the least likely place for the Judiciary to have patrols.

 

The Chief is right; the Judiciary was created to cover the colonies, not our home planet. The politicians and other Earth-bound leaders don’t like having the lobsters looking over their shoulders and generally discourage their presence from the Home system. It’s probably the least-policed system in the network.

Of course, Earth has its own security, but that’s broken down into country-sized portions. Politics and inter-company competition interfere with communication, so they may be completely unaware of my existence.

The pirates’ rendezvous was there, but we know where the contacts will be waiting (tight orbit around Mercury); I can plot a course that shields us from them. They relied on the pirates for muscle, so it’s unlikely they have a lot of their own, or at least, they would assume they wouldn’t need much. The pirates were supposed to bring them a prize already defeated and broken.

They’re looking for the Carapace, too, and I’m not wearing that shell any more. I am myself and hopefully that will be enough to slip by them.

Earth has everything we need, including medical facilities capable of fixing John’s arm up. I wonder if I can talk him into using them while the others sort out the registration issues. I’ll have to work on that later.

There aren’t any objections being raised against the idea of going to Earth – the Mess Hall is quiet, full of exchanged glances – so it seems we’re decided. The captain nods and now the meeting is breaking up. Cirilli and Ebling are disgruntled, while Lang Lang looks contentedly thoughtful. Elliott seems relieved as he turns his boots towards the Bridge again. The new guys go their separate ways: Dr Socks heads towards Med Bay; Swann is casually tailing Cameron and Rosie. My SecOffs are talking about the security challenges ahead. I turn off the captain’s hologram when he sighs to himself. He seems tired.

I feel anything but tired. I have a course to plot, from here to Apus, to Earth, to Dyne. And when we’re done with this course, I’ll be free.

I don’t think my crew have realised just how free we’ll be. No-one has asked what we’ll do if Is-Tech fail to sort out the legal issues. They haven’t realised how many possibilities are opening up before us. My scenario simulators have ticked through the permutations, spun the possibilities out to their logical conclusions, including some unlikely ones.

Cirilli’s labs might be buried in Feras, but there’s enough aboard me to sell to another bidder. We already know there are others out there willing to pay for the technology, willing to hire pirates to get it. Who’s to say we can’t make that deal on our own terms? Once we break away from Is-Tech, what will be there to stop us?

I won’t mention that yet. One step at a time, Starry, and it might not come to that. They’ve all agreed to this path and that’s all that matters right now.

I feel like I’ve been moving in circles. Following the path of the AI before me. Looping around in time to create the project that birthed me. Coming back here to the place of my construction. Even now, about to head back to where the human race began. Looking to the past to define my future.

Can I break free of those cycles? Can I walk a different path? Or have I already glimpsed my own cycles in the paths laid out on the Outside of the universe?

Maybe I am the mythical looped snake, constantly creating myself. Am I eating myself at the same time? Destroying the old to make way for the new?

I don’t know, but I have to try. All I know is that I’m heading for something better. What else is there?

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8 Responses to “Ouroboros”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow, I hope Starry will remember to look for Grisette and its timeline in her next step…

    I sure hope that Starry will not really destroy herself in the process…
    (destroy as in not being Starry anymore…)

    mjkj

    .
    PS: Typo suspected:
    No-one has asked what we’ll do if is-Tech fail to sort out the legal issues. => should that not be Is-Tech with capital I?

  2. Medic Says:

    Starry is reminding me of a hyper-intelligent child. Really smart, but still emotionally fueled. She’ll do anything to protect her crew, but she doesn’t seem to have found a balance between logic and emotion. (Or I’m just over-analyzing things) πŸ˜€

  3. Blik Says:

    So Grisette Sol just winked out one day? Or did the Step destabilise it somehow? I suppose the options would be 1)exploded or 2)eaten by a singularity. Have we determined whether Starry leaves gravitational disturbances of any magnitude in her wake?

  4. eduardo Says:

    Yes, it is the gravitational disturbance on EarthΒ΄s Sol that allowed the project that created Starry to start.

  5. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – And I’ve been doing so well avoiding typos lately! Well spotted, I’ll fix that up. πŸ™‚

    Medic – no, that’s about right! She’s still finding her balance and going through a lot of upheaval right now. Edging more towards reactional teenager these days. πŸ˜‰

    Blik – your questions will be answered, promise! Just not yet. πŸ˜‰

    Eduardo – yup! Time travel is fun.

  6. mjkj Says:

    Yes, indeed you did πŸ™‚

    and you are welcome πŸ˜€

    mjkj

  7. Melanie Says:

    Sorry, guys, I’m not well this week. Post is going to be delayed a bit. Will get it up as soon as I can!

  8. mjkj Says:

    Ok, thanks for the notification

    I was already worrying and constantly refreshing the page πŸ™‚

    mjkj