26 Apr

Pivotal

Ship's log, 21:41, 26 April 2213
Location: Grisette system
Status: Wide orbit around Grisette sol

 

So we’re still swinging around Grisette. It looks like we’re going to be here for a little while – Wong is fixing the filament that was broken when I opened that last portal, and Lang Lang is still working the kinks out of temporal-spacial navigation. Add on top of that the debates swinging back and forth between Cirilli, Ebling and the captain (with a few others sticking their heads in to keep things interesting), and I think it’s going to be a while before we know where we’re aiming for next, never mind actually being capable of getting there.

I thought about getting involved in those discussions (I use the term loosely – it’s not really a discussion once it degenerates into name-calling). They haven’t asked for my opinion and if I’m honest, I’m glad they’ve had something else to argue about lately. It’s nice to be ignored, even though it makes me feel lonely and overlooked. There hasn’t been any talk about wiping me for a while; I don’t miss that.

I’ve had more time to think. Which sounds weird for an AI, I guess – I don’t sleep or pause for breath, and I have enough processing power to manage all the ship’s systems, run entertainment for each of the crew, recalibrate my engines, and sort data for Lang Lang, all at the same time. But still, I prefer to do my more personal musings in the quiet times, when most of the crew is asleep. It’s just a SecOff on duty, with Elliott often tinkering down in Engineering. He doesn’t chatter with me so much at the moment. I’m not sure why.

Left to myself, my thoughts turn to the past and the memories that are a part of me now. I think that if she had the choice of any machine to be transferred into, Danika would have chosen a ship. I don’t know if she would have chosen this ship – definitely something scout-class or smaller, and I guess I qualify in that. She had a fondness for the smaller classes, mostly because they’re more manoeuvrable and fun to fly, but there’s more to it than that.

She spent her whole life on ships. She grew up on the Storm Warden, a cargo freighter captained by her father. They were contracted largely to Broken Hill, the mining colony in the Deneb system, out in the Cygnus constellation. The Warden transported the materials mined from the asteroid belt and nearby nebulae, out to the JOP and sometimes beyond – all the way back to Earth, or to other colonies.

The freighter itself was a large, ugly, unwieldy thing. It wasn’t designed for atmospheric entry: heavy with engines at the rear, a slender spine of crewspace up the centre, and cargo pods clamped along its length to flesh it out. There wasn’t much of a head to speak of – just the docking for a pair of tug-shuttles on the front, with the bridge buried behind reinforced bulkheads. It travelled very well in straight lines, and in close quarters had the manoeuvrability of a boulder shoved down a hill.

Down the length of the ship, spines poked out between the pods to create the inertial dampening field that protected the cargo and crew from the freighter’s lurching motions. Danika used to imagine that this field was visible, a bright lattice-work to hide the lumpy, scarred pods and clamped-on tugs, as if the IDs were able to turn the Warden into a sleek, beautiful thing, cutting a proud path between the stars.

Anything to make life aboard a freighter less boring. She used to get into trouble just to have something to do – something other than her schooling, anyway. Her father learned early to lock the cabin door until she had been through her tutorials, or she’d never stay still long enough to learn anything. So, she skimmed through her lessons as quickly as she could, taking in just enough to pass the test at the end of the tutorial that would release the doorlocks. Then she was free to roam the ship to her heart’s content (or until she was caught).

At first, her father was overjoyed at how smart his little girl was, able to get through her lessons so quickly. He soon realised her intentions, though, and while he was a good captain to his crew, he was at a loss to know what to do with his daughter. Her brother was a calmer soul, but he was a year younger and couldn’t restrain her either. He wandered astray when she encouraged him with tales of visiting other worlds or ideas about catching the elusive creatures that shared the ship with them. David’s eyes would light up and he strove to keep up with his big sister. More than once, the crew had to crawl into the ship’s ducts to clean out a fort that had been built in there, or clear a cargo pod of dustbunny traps before it was delivered to the client.

She was an indestructible creature until she was twelve years old, believing that she knew best – even better than the rules on the ship. Then she met some of the Storm Warden’s live cargo. Like any good freighter captain, Devon made sure he had cargo to carry in both directions: to as well as from Broken Hill. The colony needed supplies, just like everywhere else. Sometimes that cargo was workers: criminals sold to Broken Hill to serve their sentences out in the mines. Hard, dirty, dangerous work among volatile asteroids, it was only given to the lifers, or the crazy few who volunteered in an attempt to halve their sentence. It only worked if they survived.

The kids were banned from going near the live-cargo pods. Captain Devon’s threats sounded just like they always did – there’d be hell to pay, extra chores and lessons, and then he added an extra incentive: no more flying lessons if she disobeyed. Far from discouraged, she wanted to know what was so special about this live cargo they were carrying. She decided that the best thing to do was be extra-careful and not get caught. After all, what was the worst that could happen?

She was still small enough to wriggle through most of the ducts, and her multi-tool made it easy to unlatch the grill to get in. In the live-cargo pod, it was feeding time; the guards who supervised the inmates were overseeing the proceedings, grey uniforms among the dark blue coveralls. If it wasn’t for the costumes, she wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart. Men and women, every colour and configuration she had ever seen and a few more besides, all sharing the same room. Their most unifying feature was the hardness to their expressions, and the silence that pervaded the pod made Danika’s skin itch.

Her memory of that scene is very clear. The ghost of dust in her nose begged for a betraying sneeze and her knees ached from being wedged against the side of the shaft, keeping her in place. She fought to keep her breathing slow and steady, as if it might give her away over the hum of the environmentals. She could sense the tension in the room below but had no idea what it was until the fight broke out.

She didn’t see it start. Suddenly, there was movement – a flood of dark blue formed a circle around snarling limbs. The guards didn’t interfere, not even when one of the combatants picked up a plastic fork. I remember their short, brutal motions, raw enough to surprise a young girl who thought she’d seen the worst of everything on the vids. One of them had a scar that pulled one side of his face down. The other was unremarkable until his eye was pierced and he screamed. It was like nails on glass. Danika gripped the grill so tightly it hurt her hands, leaving a checkered impression on her palms, and the breath stopped in her throat. She desperately wanted to scream too, but she couldn’t. The thumping of her heart almost drowned out the sounds below. Almost.

When the unremarkable one fell, the guards finally came over to close it down. They shouted and their batons snapped, crackling energy into anyone in their path. Blue coveralls fell by the wayside, twitching like fish or scurrying not to be. The circle and the semblance of order dissolved into people trying to be elsewhere.

Danika closed her eyes, but she could still hear it. Crackles and thuds and voices competing: pain and authority. It followed her back down the duct, all the way into the ship proper, echoing in her ears. She had expected the guards to be better than that. Righteous, not indiscriminate. Respected, not as vicious as the men they were controlling. That hardest part was not knowing which side she should feel sympathy for.

She retreated all the way to the cabin she shared with her brother. He was excited and wanted to know what she saw, and she could only stare at him and say, “Don’t go in there, David. Do what Dad says.” He was so surprised that all he could do was gape at her.

After that day, Danika put aside her half-formed plans of taking over the Warden from her father when he retired. Romantic notions of transporting cargo across the galaxy were replaced by dreams of piloting cargoless fighters. If it was small and fast, she wanted to fly it – the further from a freighter, the better. She never looked back. She never visited the live-cargo pods again, either.

I wonder if she might have gone a different way. If she had done what she was told. If she had seen a more decorous set of prisoners. If the guards hadn’t had stun-sticks. It’s frightening when I think about it, when I add up all those decisions that drew her to signing onto the Star Step project, all those times when she could have gone somewhere else.

But she couldn’t leave the shipboard life behind; she loved it too much. She stayed in the skies and that path led her here. To her death, and to being a part of me. I can’t be sorry about that. I wouldn’t be what – who – I am now if it wasn’t for her and her choices.

It’s not just the memories I have now; it’s how she has been bleeding into me since I was first initialised. Her willingness to bend and break the rules has brought me here, to this place a few thousand years out of our time and halfway across the galaxy. I couldn’t have torn open my own code without her. I couldn’t have saved us.

Like the map that Lang Lang and I are building of the stars, her path is a bright, waving line through time to here. I have only just begun to chart its corners.

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3 Responses to “Pivotal”

  1. David Says:

    Very nice! I wonder what ever became of her brother though. Took over for their father probably.

  2. Steph Says:

    Well, that was interesting. It was good to get to know Danika better. Get some of her story out there. Although the lack of Elliott was sad. He is my favourite character.

  3. Melanie Says:

    Glad you guys liked it! I’m hoping to work in more of Danika’s backstory as we go.

    David – I am formulating plans for, uh, David. It’s possible he might turn up sometime.

    Steph – I <3 Elliott too. I'm glad he has a fan! More from him very soon!

    Tomorrow's post will be a little bit late going up. Hopefully not too much!