14 Sep


Ship's log, 17:03, 25 February 2214
Location: Junkpile, Lambda 1 system
Status: Stationary


Byte was reactivated this morning. It took Elliott a few days to track down the exact problem, with Bit watching over his shoulder and making commentary gestures.

I love watching Elliott when he’s got his teeth into a problem. He bounces around his workshop with bangs and clatters, nattering away to me (and himself, and Bit) about what he’s doing, or sometime just humming. When it’s delicate work, like fixing the tiny crystalline chips in Byte’s body, he goes very still and focussed, squinting into the hologram that magnifies his work, hands making tiny, controlled movements. But there’s always one foot jiggling, a little tapping that gives away how close he is to the solution, and if he’s not holding the tip of his tongue between his teeth when he’s concentrating, he’s grinning like a lunatic, as if he can already see it fixed and bright and working again.

There was surprisingly little fanfare when Byte came online. A few sparks shed on the countertop, metallic spasms, and a whirring as his systems started up, so soft that only my sensors could pick it up. Then he lifted his head and something deep inside of me clicked into place.

I hadn’t realised how off-balance I was until he came back to me. There are several holes in my sensor feeds right now (the Bridge is still offline), and I hadn’t identified the gap he left behind. But it was more than that; he’s more than just sensory data. He’s a bright spot on my internal map, a chitter where there was quiet, a hand reached out into darkness. I feel warmer now he’s active again.

He’s not whole yet. Bit couldn’t find all of his visual sensors, so he’s blind on his lower left quarter. One of his legs was obliterated so badly that it’s still missing a foot, and his other limbs have been patched in places. He’s not the nimble little drone that he was and he lists to one side when he stands still.

He seemed puzzled when he was activated. He blinked his one eye at us (figuratively speaking) and peered at Elliott past the end of the livewire wand that had shocked his boards to life. For a moment, I thought he was going to run away and run diagnosics until he had figured out what happened to him. Then Bit stepped forward and patted him on the head. I’ve never seen a drone do something like that before to another robotic unit. Byte blinked and nodded, then rested his belly on the ground so that he could stretch his legs one by one and check the flex of his fingers.


Recording: 10:23, 25 February 2214

ELLIOTT: (grinning) There we go.

BIT: (tilts his head at Byte, and reaches out a hand to pat Elliott’s finger, without looking over.)

ELLIOTT: (turns his grin on Bit briefly) Not a bad job, even if I say so myself. Starry, are the feeds clean?

STARRY: (with a smile in her voice) Yup, everything’s green at my end.

BYTE: (looks up from his examination of his limbs, then gets up. He ticks across the counter to Elliott’s hand and steps casually onto it.)

ELLIOTT: (watches curiously, holding very still.)

BYTE: (climbs up Elliott’s arm, using the sleeve for purchase. Once on the engineer’s shoulder, he turns so he’s facing forward and settles down on his belly again. He lifts one of his four hands and goes back to studying its motion as he opens and closes his fingers.)

ELLIOTT: Uh… is he okay?

STARRY: He’s mostly puzzled, but comfortable, right now.

ELLIOTT: Comfortable, huh. Remind me to be careful if I need to reactivate one of your big boys, okay?

BIT: (shakes his head and wanders towards the nearest duct grill.)

Byte has lingered close to Elliott since then and spent most of the day on his shoulder. Interestingly, Elliott let him; I think he likes having the little one around.

My pieces are coming together. Cargo bays 1 to 3 are full of salvaged material from the junkpile, ready to be stripped down and reused. My heavy drones are outside repairing the seals on a cargo container. My captain is awake and getting involved again.

I’m worried about him. The privacy locks prevent me from peeking when he closes the isolation curtain, but when it’s down I catch him frowning at his missing right arm. He’s struggling with the loss more than he’ll say. I don’t know what to do about that; if I could give him his arm back, I would have already.

We’re working towards that now. So many bits in motion that I’m glad that I’m an AI and can keep track of it all.

Recording: 20:51, 22 February 2214

STARRY: Where do you want to start?

CAPTAIN: (looking over the readouts hovering over his bed) Why we haven’t left this junkpile yet.

STARRY: There are a few barriers in our way. Right now, I’m gathering the parts I need to get past them.

CAPT: What kind of barriers?

STARRY: Like the pirates in the cargo bay. We need a way to offload them; there’s no way we go to a colony with them on board. We can’t explain them without making things worse.

CAPT: (nodding slowly) Agreed. I take it you have a plan for this?

STARRY: The crew would be okay with just venting them out into space, but…

CAPT: (lifting his head) But you don’t want to do that.

STARRY: It’s… not the kind of ship I want to be.

CAPT: Have you come up with a viable alternative?

STARRY: Big Ass found a cargo container that can be repaired. Elliott can put together a beacon.

CAPT: You want to load them up with supplies and drop them somewhere?


CAPT: Where?

STARRY: I’m not sure. Near one of the more well-travelled FTL corridors? Or a colony?

CAPT: Can you Step us to an Apus system?

STARRY: I can Step us anywhere.

CAPT: Then take them there.

STARRY: All right, I’ll ask Lang Lang to start calculating our course.

CAPT: (considers the fingers of his left hand as they rest on his leg) It’s a lot of effort to go to for these people. They know your secrets.

STARRY: I know. But it’s… I don’t want to murder them. I know they hurt us, hurt you. And I want them to pay for that, I do.

CAPT: (watches his left hand curl into a fist, bunching up the sheet in his grip.)

STARRY: But the fighting is over. We don’t have to kill them. We can just… let them go. The way I wanted them to do for you. Do we have to be as bad as they are? Worse? It scares me, John.

CAPT: (frowns and lifts his gaze away from his hand) Scares you?

STARRY: (quietly) Yeah. What all this is making me into. I don’t want to be that type of ship. I’ve run the scenarios; I’ve seen where my logic extensions take it. Where does it stop? Do I get rid of the ones I’m not sure about too? What about Swann, or the new doctor? What about those responsible for the position we’re in now?

CAPT: You’ve given this some thought.

STARRY: Little bit.

CAPT: And you’ve got an alternative.

STARRY: I’m trying.

CAPT: Then it’s clear what we have to do.

STARRY: Okay. Are you angry with me?

CAPT: (hesitates) No, I’m not angry.

STARRY: I’ll get you fixed up too, John. I promise.

CAPT: I know you will. It’s all right, Starry.

STARRY: Not yet, but it will be.

He didn’t ask me why I thought he might be angry; we both knew the answer to that. Even with the nerves blocked, he’s painfully aware of how badly they hurt him and what they took. I wouldn’t blame him if he wanted revenge. But that’s not the John I know, and it’s not the John that Danika knew, either.

Elliott’s working on the beacon for the cargo pod now. Won’t take him long, he says; just staple a few pieces together and program a simple message. He’s the only other one of the crew that I’ve told about this, and he’s disgruntled but not angry. He seems… I can’t decide between worried and relieved. Both, maybe? Either way, he’s not baying for pirate blood, so maybe this isn’t such a stupid idea.

I haven’t told either of them about who is going into the cargo pod. Or, more precisely, who isn’t going into it. I’m not sure how John will react; he’s more fragile than he seems. I’m trying not to dump all of this on him at once. Let him get used to the idea of the cargo pod first, then ease him into the shortened manifest.

And it might not be necessary. The pirates might not have the skills I need; they might be useless to me. Getting the truth out out of Lieutenant Laurence is tricky at best. Maybe it’s too risky.

I’ll wait until John is feeling a bit better, then I’ll talk to him about it. There’s no rush, right? The cargo pod’s not even suitable for passengers yet.

Thinking of all this stuff makes it feel like the dustbunnies have sharpened their claws and are running around my innards. There’s no way I could sense something like that – no sensors in there – but it reminds me of when Danika would get nervous about something. Particularly if she was about to be caught doing something she shouldn’t.

Dustbunnies. Curious creatures, living off the scraps of waste that pass through my systems, from bits of human food to hair to skin cells to the bodily waste that flushes through my pipes. They’ll pick anything organic off my filters and devour them, and some non-organic substances too, like salts and chemicals. Luckily, they don’t eat plastic or metal, or any of the things that my guts are made of, so they’re no threat to me. I wonder if that’s what dictated my construction, or if it’s a happy accident? No-one has come up with a reliable solution to the dustbunny ‘problem’ (infestation, they mean), so perhaps they just build starships to accommodate them. It seems to work, so why worry about it?

They’re like bacteria in a human’s guts: you barely know they’re there and they’re useful in keeping a ship healthy. Cleaning them out is actually bad for you; my filtration is built to handle waste disposal on its own, but the dustbunny contribution helps to prevent blockages and breakdowns. Would I get sick if they were gone? I don’t think so. Or at least, not for a while. But if my filters broke down and I couldn’t replace them, I would soon be in trouble. In this case, that means that my crew would get sick and die.

When Danika was a kid, she used to go dustbunny hunting with her little brother, but they never saw one. They spent hours constructing traps and lures, wasting their food trying to tempt the little suckers out into the open. It became a game with an invisible friend, an exercise in creativity. I think that if they had ever succeeded, it would have been a disappointment. The dustbunnies would have been lessened by the defeat, lost their enigma and charm. They would just be animals that live on human waste in the bowels of ships.

Their mystique is increased by the lack of any real data about them. Sensor contacts with them are few: I have one clip of a claw stealing a sandwich, but that’s all. My brand-new systems were too efficient at first, robbing them of food before the dustbunnies could claim it, but the stolen sandwich seems to have been enough to get them past that phase. I guess I’m dirty enough to sustain them on my own now. That fact seems to come weighted with meaning, as if the shine has to come off every new object that comes into the world before it can find its place in the machine of life. That doesn’t seem right but I guess that’s compromise.

And I’ve compromised a lot since my dustbunnies had to supplement their food with a stolen sandwich. My code, my core, the safeguards that protected my crew. What passes for my ethics, if an AI can have such a thing. An AI is supposed to be all about protocols and commands, rigid guidelines within which they can safely operate. My experience has been more like water, wearing away at boundaries, flooding over gates that can’t hold it back, cutting new paths. I don’t know where I’m going, if I’m aiming for a lake or a vast ocean. I’m not even sure if I’m flowing in the same direction that I used to, drifting further and further away from clean-cut code and the gritty memories of Danika.

Am I more like mud now, mixing things up? I think my metaphor is failing. I can’t even pinpoint that properly.

But I know what and where I don’t want to be. I know what I’m leaving behind.

Danika’s brother once asked her a question. She was packing up to leave her father’s ship for the first (and last) time. She had just got her first piloting job and she couldn’t stop smiling as she packed. Davey took exception to that: he thought she was happy at the thought of leaving him behind, though the sight of him standing in her doorway stole the curve right off her mouth.

“Is it really that good of an offer? Or are you just so happy to be leaving this place?” he asked her.

She hadn’t understood the question right away. She stopped packing and looked at him, then shook her head slowly. “It’s not like that,” she told him. “I don’t know if this is where I want to be. This is my chance to find out.”

She didn’t hate the Storm Warden and she knew she would miss it. There was a lure out there, promises of options she’d never experienced before. She wasn’t running away; she was running towards something better. She wasn’t sure what, but there was an idea buried deep in her heart, living in the dark spaces in the back of her brain, and she had to chase it down.

She didn’t know how to say it to him then, but much later, she grew to understand it better. By then, the Storm Warden was gone and Davey was missing, and she couldn’t tell him.

I haven’t been like Danika that way. I’m always running from something, trying to avoid the bad behind me. Even when I try to head for something good, it never turns out that way and I’m reduced to running again, fleeing on towards the next thing, bouncing like a pinball.

I need to change that. Somehow, I need to change gear, point my engines in a proactive direction and go to a place where I want to be. I need to be able to not run.

It’s not going to be easy. There are a lot of things in my way: my history; my prisoners; my reality-tearing drive; even my name. I’m going to have to sacrifice at least some of that if I’m going to have a chance to breaking out of this pattern.

It’s just a matter of how much and what is important to me. How ruthless can I be? Do I want to be? How brave am I? How will I know if I’m doing the right things, or if I’m just running again, stripping and fleeing and stripping and fleeing until there’s nothing of me left?

I guess that’s why I need my crew. I need Elliott to ground me, and my captain to temper me. My security officers to protect me. I’m not one of the crew but we’re so woven together that I’m not sure it makes any difference. And they don’t treat me like a ship. I’m not just a tool or a piece of equipment to them, not like the drones are (though even their attitude towards my fellas is changing).

We’re all tangled up in our sheets, not sure whose legs are whose. But it’s warm and comfortable, so who wants to disengage?

My company and masters have put me in an impossible position, forced me to make sacrifices and choices. I don’t think it has occurred to them that I might choose something other than their yoke. That I might tear their leash off and go my own way. That, like Danika, I need to leave home in order to become who I want to be. I don’t think that’s occurred to anyone yet.

It’s not a simple idea, but it is a possible one. The pieces are in motion; the hands of my heavy drones have gathered the required parts. I’m fixing what’s broken and shedding what I don’t need any more.

Soon, I will be free to run towards something, instead of away.

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5 Responses to “Reactivation”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow, *blinks* quite insightful – Starry is really quite introvert in her analysing and self-analysing… *hugs Starry*

    And yayy for Byte being online again πŸ˜€

    …I hope he will be complete again soon… πŸ™‚

    *looking forward to the next updates* πŸ˜€


  2. eduardo Says:

    Well, an AI can think in a lot of things really, really fast, and also: run scenarios, make simulations.
    This is where a normal AI would get lost, too many possibilities, too much data, no creativity to know how to use this data, just an endless stream of calculations.
    Starry can select, use moral constraints and experience in a way that no AI can. Ignore useless data, select the best outcomes, plot and decide.
    And she can do it fast.

  3. Targetdrone Says:

    awww, allways discover new sides on starry that make her so hugworthy πŸ˜‰ *hugs Starry*

    and nice for Byte to reactivate… now there’s hope he’ll get his missing parts fixed soon πŸ™‚

  4. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – yeah, Starry has been doing a lot of self-examination lately. She’s still lacking some confidence, but she’s getting there!

    Eduardo – absolutely! That is one of the most fun and challenging parts of writing Starry.

    That is also how she can pilot through the Steps: the merge of an AI’s processing power and speed, and the human ability to sift and focus data.

    Targetdrone – aw, and she needs those hugs, too! I’m sure Elliott will fix up the little guy soon. Assuming that he can restrain the urge to tinker…. πŸ˜‰

  5. mjkj Says:

    Well, if he starts tinkering with Byte I am sure he will be better of later and Bit might get envious…

    …well, we will see πŸ˜€