24 Aug

Pariah

Ship's log, 09:02, 19 February 2214
Location: Junkpile, Lambda 1 system
Status: Stationary

 

TELLTALE HEART: (over short-range comms) Requesting permission to dock, Starwalker.

STARWALKER: Granted.

 

I was expecting more messages, comm relays of news from the artificial planet and the company that built me. Instead the courier ship wants to dock and I can’t decide if that’s a good or bad sign. They know my captain is out of commission, but they still want a face-to-face? Is it really so confidential that they don’t even trust it to short-range comms?

The little courier is sliding right inside the cargo ship’s hold with me, manoeuvring around to hover above me. She’s going for my top airlock; that one is only used for human access. If she had supplies for me, she’d use one of my side airlocks.

I’m irritated by that and I can’t even say why. I want to flick my thrusters on full downward push, to burn her belly and smack her in the head with the ceiling of the cargo hold. I won’t, but it’s tempting. Running the scenario through my simulation processors is oddly comforting. The cargo ship’s bulk would crush her like a little tin can if I could shove it hard enough…

Β 
Soft seal engaged.
Airlock active.

 

She’s settling down on top of me like a tick. Her feet had better not leave marks on my hull. Doesn’t she know I just had that repainted?

Β 
Hard seal locked in.
Hard seal engaged.
Airlock access requested.

 

It’s tempting to say no. It’s tempting to shiver like she itches and tear her connecting bridge apart.

Stupid ship, it might be good news.

Cameron is there waiting for them. Rosie is standing behind her, casually holding the biggest gun she could find. Elliott’s watching from Engineering, like always, and Cirilli is marching down to see what’s going on. Ebling is on her heels like a dog that doesn’t want to miss out on any scraps.

Deep breath.

Β 
Airlock access granted.
Pressure equalising.
Airlock released.

 

My sensors are picking up three bodies in the bridge between the ships. They come in boots-first, dropping down with the measured control of artificial gravity harnesses. I can feel the harnesses licking at my gravity generators, handing their grip from one ship’s field to the other. The changeover would be imperceptable to a human but it blips on my monitors.

Wide Load and Big Ass are approaching the junction from different directions. They know that I’m nervous and are there to offer their muscle, should it be needed. It shouldn’t be, but I’m glad they’re there. They stop just out of sight of the airlock entry, settling back on their haunches with metallic patience.

My sensors tell me that all three of the people dropping onto my decks are male. The first one should be the Telltale Heart‘s captain, if they’re following protocol. He’s not exactly what I’m expecting: bright blue hair and wearing more makeup than all four of those gathered to greet him combined. His clothing is all bright shimmering colours and, unless I’m mistaken, he’s wearing lifts in his shoes. There can’t be much to do on board a courier ship.

The second guest is younger, about twenty years old, but with an authentic look about him. His face doesn’t have the sculpted look that suggests surgery, or too much perfection like Tyler’s had, so that’s probably his actual age. He’s dressed in muted greens and carrying a bulky case. From the glare he flicks out from under his floppy hair, he doesn’t much want to be here.

The third guy is compact and hard, like he tried to pack as much body as he could into his efficient frame. SecOff, has to be: it takes training to move like he does. It’s as if there’s a cushion of air between him and the decking, keeping him light even after the harness settles him down on solid footing, and his glances are too sharp.

 

BLUE HAIR: (finding Cameron with a smile and offering out a hand) Chief Cameron, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Captain Jeremiah Morgan.

CAMERON: (takes his hand calmly) Welcome to the Starwalker. May I ask what brings you here?

MORGAN: We have some business to discuss. Is there somewhere we can go..?

CAMERON: The Mess Hall is the best place to talk. But I’m going to have to insist that you surrender your weapons first.

MORGAN: (lifts his carefully-shaped eyebrows) I don’t think that’s necessary. We’re all friends here, aren’t we?

CAMERON: Then you won’t mind surrendering your weapons. We’ve had some… problems, and prefer to err on the side of caution. I’m sure you understand.

 

I love how she can reprimand someone sharply without altering her tone at all. How does she do that?

Rosie is thumbing a control on her gun idly, eyeing the compact guy. He’s weighing her up as well. If they get much closer, they’ll probably start sniffing each other’s arses.

 

MORGAN: (hesitates, then smiles widely) Of course. No danger here, hmm?

BIG ASS: (trundles around the corner and holds out all four hands, palm-up and open, ready for them to place their weapons in.)

MORGAN: Why, it’s almost like you were prepared for our arrival. How… comforting.

CAMERON: We’ve waited a long time for a visit from a company representative.

BIG ASS: (flexes his fingers in an impatient, beckoning motion.)

 

The captain and the SecOff are surrendering their personal arsenals. The green shirt isn’t doing anything. No weapons at all? I find that hard to believe. Big Ass is sidling towards him until he’s close enough to do a thorough scan. Nope, the green shirt has come up clean, along with his bag. Some devices in there but nothing that could be classed as a weapon. Unusual.

The SecOff is holding out, though, and Big Ass has to prod him in a couple of places before he’ll give it all up. He doesn’t look pleased but I don’t care. We won’t give him a reason to use them, so he doesn’t need them, does he?

Cameron is leading them to the Mess Hall. Oh, they’re doing introductions now, as if that might cover up the aftertaste of paranoia and distrust. How nice.

The SecOff is Riley Swann, and the green shirt is Dr Argyle Valdimir. Argyle. Seriously? Now he reminds me of socks; Danika’s dad used to read her stories about Argyle Socks and Paisley Shirt, a dastardly duo who had adventures in the laundry between being dumped in the chute and returning folded in the drawer.

Morgan didn’t say what kind of doctor he is, but he could be a medic from the look of the devices in his bag. Must be. Have they really sent me help? Did they really listen to me?

I think I’ll call him Dr Socks.

 

MORGAN: (looking around the Mess Hall as they enter) Curious choice of location.

CAMERON: (gesturing the guests towards seats at a table) The Bridge was damaged by a bomb. This is the best place to accommodate you all.

SWANN: (sitting down) What kind of bomb?

ROSIE: (darkly) Daisycutter.

SWANN: Damn.

DR SOCKS: (sits down near the end of the table, slumping as if he’s not very interested in the conversation.)

CAMERON: What do you have for me, Captain Morgan?

MORGAN: (adjusting his shiny jacket now that he’s sitting) Are you aware of the reason for your… current position?

ROSIE: (takes a standing position near the end of the table, where she can see everyone, and rests the gun’s butt on her hip) You mean stuck out here in this junkpile?

CAMERON: We saw the Judiciary ship.

MORGAN: (inclines his head towards the Chief) That’s the issue. They’re investigating the possibility of illegal research being conducted. A report was filed at the JOP.

CIRILLI: (scowling) The nature of the project should have been confidential, according to intellectual property laws, and–

MORGAN: (holds up a hand) Apparently true, but that didn’t stop someone from going on record about it.

EBLING: (lowly) Bitch.

ROSIE: (scowling) We should have spaced Tripi instead of dragging her ass back to the JOP.

 

I want to agree with her. Tripi did so much damage and she’s still hurting us. She killed Danika, hurt my Elliott, and tried to wipe me. Now it looks like she’s raked our secrets out into the light. She took my home from me.

I hurt her too. I tortured her, full of rage, and I don’t regret it. She forced my hand and I had to protect my crew.

I could have punched her out of an airlock. No-one would have stopped me, not even my captain. No-one would have cried at her loss. Just like I could open up Cargo Bay 4 to the vacuum and get rid of the pirates in my belly, and no-one would mind.

But I didn’t do it then and I can’t now. I’ve hurt people. I’ve helped others be killed. Danika was a combat pilot for a while and shot down other ships, ended lives. But that was all in battle, never after someone surrendered. Not after the fight was over. It was never murder.

I don’t know if it’s my coding or something deep in Danika’s braincopy, but I’m just not that cold-blooded. I don’t want to be that kind of ship.

It would easier to feel good about that if we weren’t being punished for trying to do the right thing.

 

MORGAN: However it happened, the investigation is underway. You understand Is-Tech’s position.

CAMERON: (nods calmly) Are they still in denial, or are they at the blame stage?

MORGAN: (eyes Cameron curiously) Denial. They know how to protect their secrets.

EBLING: Even from the Judiciary?

MORGAN: (smiles humourlessly) The Judiciary isn’t as all-powerful as they’d like you to believe.

CAMERON: So they’re not actively looking for us?

MORGAN: No, but they’re searching all Is-Tech and unregistered ships.

CIRILLI: So what does the company expect us to do?

MORGAN: Continue your research and stay away from Feras and the Judiciary. Keep to the outer colonies; no-one will look for you there.

ROSIE: What about Boereque and Hunt?

MORGAN: (looks confused.)

SWANN: (leans towards the captain) The pirates.

MORGAN: Boereque Intergalactic sent them?

CAMERON: As far as we can work out. They won’t say.

MORGAN: Not much we can do about them, I’m afraid. Try to steer clear.

ROSIE: What the fuck do you think we did: fly into their arms and say ‘take us, please’?

CIRILLI: (leaning forward to pull Morgan’s attention away from Rosie’s colourful language) You can’t offer us any more protection?

MORGAN: (shakes his head slowly) I’m afraid not. Our hands are tied.

CAMERON: (exchanges a look with Rosie.)

ROSIE: (looks like she’s about to explode, but subsides.)

 

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering, watching the sensor feed. He grabs a spanner and hurls it across the room. It ricochets with satisfyingly-loud clangs while he swears inventively.)

 

That’s it? They just send us on our way with an apologetic look and a ‘check back later’? That’s it?

No. That’s pathetic. What kind of company are they?

 

STARRY: (in the Mess Hall) Did you seriously come over here to offer us nothing?

MORGAN: (looks around for the source of the voice, but finds nothing) Who is that?

CAMERON: (watching the blue-haired captain) The ship.

DR SOCKS: (sits up a little straighter.)

SWANN: (lifts his eyebrows) We heard your AI was… different.

EBLING: (lowly) You have no idea.

MORGAN: Well, ship–

STARRY: Starry.

MORGAN: …Starry. We aren’t offering nothing.

STARRY: Really?

MORGAN: We understand that you’re short of a medic and a SecOff. Dr Valdimir and Mr Swann are joining your crew. We’ll send their records to you from the Telltalle Heart.

ROSIE: (looks Swann up and down again.)

STARRY: Okay. What about the injured?

MORGAN: With a new medic–

STARRY: I’m still not equipped to heal them. Unless he plans on using his own parts to replace the ones they’re missing.

MORGAN: (glances over at the doctor.)

DR SOCKS: (looks unphased by the suggestion, leaning back in his chair) According to the reports, they need a proper medical facility.

MORGAN: Can’t help you with that, I’m afraid.

STARRY: You can’t even take the ones in stasis?

MORGAN: We can’t take anything that could implicate Is-Tech, I’m afraid. Hiding injured will be impossible under the Judiciary’s scrutiny. It’s difficult enough to free up crewmembers without leaving a trail.

DR SOCKS: (scowls at a wall.)

MORGAN: They’re still working on that. Feras will send you up another SecOff and a new captain, they just need more time to–

STARRY: No.

MORGAN: …what?

STARRY: I don’t need a new captain. I need to fix the one I’ve got.

MORGAN: You’re on your own in that.

STARRY: So I see. What about our extra passengers?

MORGAN: We’re a courier; we don’t have room to take them, and we can’t hide them from the Judiciary, either. You’ll have to find another way to–

STARRY: So you’ve brought me two crewmembers. Anything else? It sounds like your list is shorter than mine.

MORGAN: We’ve got a package for you. We’ve set up a new account to fund any equipment or services you might need.

CAMERON: Suitably detached from Is-Tech, I take it?

MORGAN: (nods at her) Indeed.

 

That’s it? That’s all I’m worth to them? Two sly replacements and an envelope stuffed with money to make me go away? So much for the project that will save the company. So much for being precious to them. I’m a pariah in my own home.

Even my drones are pissed off. Waldo just copied Elliott and threw a spanner across Engineering. I think he bent it.

My internal pressure sensors keep twitching; it’s a struggle to keep it from cranking up. I don’t have a pulse but that doesn’t mean I can’t hear it in my ears when I get angry.

There’s something cleansing about feeling this furious. Like fear can’t touch me. Like I could do anything.

Anything I want.

What do you think of this post?
  • Love it (8)
  • OMG (3)
  • Hilarious (2)
  • Awww (0)

11 Responses to “Pariah”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Awww … poor Starry *hugs*

    Well, I think Starry should see it from the practical side – at least they provide her with means so she can get to a proper med-facility somewhere else after she sneaks out of Lambda 1 System.

    I hope the funds are sufficient for that…

    I wonder how the rest will cope with the new crew members…

    mjkj

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    the real problem is the integration of the new crew members… there wasnt a journey together to build up trust… and IS-Techs HR-Department fucked up …. twice in the past….

    Now even if the 2 newbies are genuine, they have to adapt to have an ai captain and a close knit crew….

    i guess i can understand is-techs position, and tbh, it is a lot more forthcoming and helpful than i would have thought them to be…. i wouldnt have put it past a corporation like that to mine the telltale heart and blow her up along with starry just to get rid of evidence…. so color me impressed there.

    one thing that would be interesting…. this currency… is it something physical you can carry around? or is it simply some numbers in an account? reason for asking, if its the former, they can use it even if they skip time backwards again, if its the latter, they only can use it from the point in tome forward where it was issued to an account they can use.

    oh… and if they really are going rogue now, some of they ahve some investing of the funds to do… restock supplies, get additional medical equipment to be able to run self sufficiant (which means getting an upgraded med bay, as they cant now rely on facilities anywhere really for fear of the judicary or pirates) and of course they need an upgrade to defensive and offensive abilities…

    on that note…. are they able to skip into the future? if so… investing some money conservatively and then going to the future to claim the rewards and getting some top notch weapons and defensive systems would be the logical step to take… actually when going there id get my medic bay there too πŸ˜›

    oh, and of course another round of hugs out to starry πŸ˜‰

  3. Josh Says:

    uh oh. a furious, time traveling, self aware ship doesnt strike me as something you want to have angry at you.

  4. Retsof Says:

    Am I the only one who heard the dramatically dark music at the last sentence?

  5. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – yes! Her processes should weigh in all of the factors before spitting out a calculation. It’s a matter of balance, and whether she decides that Is-Tech have done enough for her, I guess.

    Targetdrone – yes, wouldn’t you love to be a newbie coming into a ship with a close crew and a weird AI prone to mood swings? πŸ˜‰

    The currency is an issue! I’m still noodling out the details on that. It would have to be some kind of halfway house between physical currency and an account. The lack of FTL communications means that a ship could spend the same credit on six colonies before the account updates caught up with it, so a centralised account network wouldn’t work.

    I have a couple of ideas that I need to work the kinks out of. And you’re right: time travel does make this more complicated! Watch this space. πŸ˜‰

    Retsof – πŸ˜€

  6. Melanie Says:

    Hi Josh and welcome to the blog! Great to hear from you.

    And yes, I completely agree. Someone is sitting in Is-Tech thinking to themselves, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’. I really don’t think they want to know the answer to that. πŸ˜‰

  7. Benjamin B. Says:

    Starry’s awesome! It just had to be said πŸ™‚

    It wasn’t what I’d expected from Is-Tech either, but that made it more interesting, in my opinion. It’ll be interesting to see how/if the current crew can accept the newbies, though with Starry’s current mood, it almost feels like they’re more in for interrogation than integration!

    Also, your mention in passing of Tyler kinda made me wonder about him. It almost sounds like Starry already considers him lost.

  8. Blik Says:

    Waitjustadurnminute. We have FTL *travel* but not FTL *communication*? How in tarnation does THAT work? Surely the first step would be to send something insubstantial instantaneously, like the Ansible from Ender’s Game.

    As for the dramatic music, I’m finding it hard to decide whether Beethoven’s 5th, Night on Bald Mountain, or the Dies Irae from Mozart’s Requiem would be best. You have anything in mind, Melanie? Maybe something from Lord of the Rings?

  9. Belial666 Says:

    Actually, FTL travel with no FTL comm makes sense. A ship would have the device that distorts space-time to allow said FTL travel onboard (let’s call it warp drive) and the device would only have to distort an area large enough to fit the ship.
    In order for a stationary device to send a signal to another, you need to make a distortion extending several light-years which, I presume, would take a ridiculously large amount of power and a ridiculously large size of hyper-generator.

    On the other hand, you could have tachyonic communications. You send a communication today and it arrives 10 light-years away. But because it’s a tachyonic signal instead of a bradyonic one, instead of taking 10 years to arrive to its destination, it arrives ten years before you send it (i.e. 10 years in the past).

    Another option would be quantum coupling comms. Instantaneous communication regardless of distance because no signal actually travels any distance.

  10. Melanie Says:

    Sorry for the delay in replying, guys. Been a crazy few days!

    Benjamin B – Starry’s aware that her changes of ever seeing Tyler again are really slim, so he’s definitely in the ‘lost’ column for her (rather like Maletz is). I think she misses him.

    Blik – I tend to think of FTL in the Starwalker universe like air travel: the mechanism for transporting people and the mechanism for transmitting data through the air are quite different. FTL travel is buffered by intertial dampeners (IDs), and some buffering is likely to be necessary for data transmissions to avoid it being smashed up during acceleration/deceleration.

    There’s also a question about how you’d receive data travelling FTL without obliterating the receiver, or without some ability to detect something moving FTL (in time to do something about it).

    Ultimately, I’ve chosen to go with the theory that they haven’t solved this problem in the Starwalker universe yet. Back to the Pony Express days, I’m afraid!

    Belial666 – Tachyonic communications sound scary. It hurt my head.

    I think that using quantum-entangled pairs would be the best method of instantaneous intergalactic communications. I have noodled about with some applications of this (in a dark corner of my brain), but it’s beyond what the Starwalker universe is currently capable of. Yet. πŸ˜‰

  11. Belial666 Says:

    Well, the problem with tachyonic signals is Paradox. Say a bank crashes somewhere. You send the signal to a nearby system and suddenly they’d know the bank would crash a few years before it actually does. Or you send the same message to a transmitter you own a light-day away in deep space and it transmits the signal back; you’d know the bank will crash two days in advance – hell, you’d know the entire news column two days in advance. Now, extrapolate the same Paradox about technological research, military actions, political events and so on. πŸ™‚ Basically, it’s the same advantage/problem Starry has with future knowledge, times a million.

    BTW, if Starry wants money, they can download the stock exchange movement of a large planet for a day, then go back in time in the beginning of the day and play their own meager money in it, using their foreknowledge of the market’s movements and trends. Can you say “ridiculously huge money stockpile?” And they can basically do it again and again in the same day for different planets.

    Ditto for knowledge of the JOP’s movements. Enter a solar system at high speed and with charged stepping drive. Scan for JOP presence. If there is a JOP presence, do a step back in time and avoid that system. Go to another system. Repeat. It doesn’t matter how many ships are hunting you. You can basically scout all the inhabited star systems in the Galaxy and have time for your repairs and system improvements while no time passes for them; they can’t hunt you down at all as long as you are prepared.