05 Mar

Ready state

Chief Engineer's log, 18:12, 5 March 2213
Location: Corsica system
Status: Close orbit around Corsica sol

This is the engineer, checking in again. Reporting on our progress and readiness to proceed, like a good little screwdriver.

Readiness. We’re not ready at all, but I don’t know how to make us any more ready than we are. Contrary to popular opinion, I take pride in my work. So yeah, I’m a little pissed.

I’ve spent the last few days chasing down weird glitches. If it’s not the food processors, it’s the water system. If it’s not them, it’s the pilot’s chair disconnecting itself again while no-one’s looking. There doesn’t seem to be any one cause; at least, not one that I can track down, and I’m damned good at what I do. The best. They wouldn’t have hired me onto such a ‘prestigious project’ otherwise. I make things work – that’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done, and if the whitecoats at Feras are to be believed, I’m a fucking genius at it.

Wong is now double-checking all my work. He doesn’t know a fucking thing about ships – beyond his fancy-schmancy Star Stepping thing – but now he’s acting like he knows everything. The captain and Cirilli decided that it would be best if he ‘helped’. They want to be sure. I’m not sure about a goddamn thing but that doesn’t mean I need Wong’s help.

Starry asked if the dustbunnies might be getting at her wiring and causing all these problems. They creep her out. Dr Maletz said that they were just like the bacteria that us humans have in our gut. Now I’m a little creeped out.

It’s not the little ship’s helpers. They don’t mess with wiring or the workings of the ship; if they did, someone would have wiped them out a long time ago. Can you imagine what would happen if they chewed on the ID system during an FTL jump? They wouldn’t survive very long, that’s for sure; no-one would. No, they eat the stuff we don’t want or have already eaten. Like mushrooms with legs and tiny claws.

I knew a guy who said he’d seen one, but I didn’t believe him. Scaly and translucent, he said, like little ghosts of lizards. I probably shouldn’t tell Starry that; she’s already disturbed enough.

I still can’t believe they stole my goddamn sandwich. Must be because the ship is new and runs pretty clean, and we don’t produce enough shit for them. Maybe I should hang a sandwich over Wong’s bed and see if they’ll crawl over his sleeping face to get to it.

Anyway. Ship stuff.

The good news is that the heat shielding is holding. The siphons are working well, turning the excess heat into energy to feed into the engines, which are keeping us on a nice, steady orbit around the star. The Star Stepper’s power cells are almost completely charged again; we haven’t had the chance to replenish them properly before now. We can’t feel the gravity of the star at all – the IDs are ticking over just fine – and Starry doesn’t seem to be straining at all to keep us from falling into the star. Smooth sailing all the way.

She said she dodged a flare earlier. Showed me the footage and everything. It was scary, looking at a great loop of fiery goo spurting out of a star’s surface from this close. We swooped around it without any problems, sleek enough that no-one else on board noticed.

I hope we don’t hang out this close to the star for too much longer; I know we have to be close to make this ‘Stepper work, but it’s a more dangerous zone than I like to hang out in, thank you very much. The SecOffs might not care about the risk, but that’s only because they can’t fix it by shooting it or blowing it up.

Starry seems to be doing better now that she has things to dodge. She says that keeping an eye on the star’s surface, our orbit, and the heat exchanges are taking up a lot of her resources. That’s why she’s sometimes a bit distracted.

She thinks I haven’t noticed that she’s always distracted when I’m on the Bridge working on the pilot’s chair. Which, let me me tell you, is a strange job. Every now and then, it just cuts out. Never when I’m working on it, but if I go away to do something, it’s often down when I come back, as if it died in its sleep. Only once have I found a connection come loose; the rest of the time I have to forcibly restart that part of the network to get it to come back again. Considering that it’s connected to the navigation and helm systems, and we’re an engine-fart away from falling into a star, it’s not something that I do lightly.

Wong keeps asking me if the new power buffers are the problem. I can’t see how, but I tested them anyway. I don’t want to take them out – we put those buffers in for a reason and that reason hasn’t gone away. We don’t want to have to replace the whole couch outfit again. The buffers seem fine, and the couch only goes dark when it’s not being used, not when there’s a power surge. I’m sure it’s not that.

Levi’s had a test run in the chair, in between the blackouts, and he seems convinced that he’ll do fine with it. I’m glad he’s confident about that. His piloting is the only thing he seems sure of and calm about. Of course, as soon as he got up from the chair, the whole thing went dark and I had to kick it three times before it would come up again. I’ve put extra monitors on it, cycling its diagnostic protocols every ten minutes to keep it active.

It’s held steady since then. How long should it be working before I declare that it’s fixed? I have no idea. If it fucks up while we’re Stepping, we’re all screwed.

We need more time. I need to figure out what’s going on here and eradicate the bastard before it kills us. Cirilli wants to press on and her pain-in-the-ass second scientist, Ebling, keeps interfering. One minute, he’s tearing strips off me because of the delays, and the next he’s needling Cirilli about how her project isn’t going to plan. I have no idea what side he thinks he’s on.

Fucking whitecoats and their politics. Why can’t they keep that shit on mid-deck and leave the rest of us alone?

Should I be reporting on the ‘Stepper integration here as well? No idea. Wong keeps all that stuff to himself anyway, like a kid with brand new marbles who doesn’t want to muddy them by playing with the rest of us. Never mind that they’re made to be tossed into the dirt. He and Ebling have been spending a lot of time hounding me about this stupid pilot’s chair, so I guess they’re done with the rest of their stuff. I haven’t had to clean up any disasters left in their wake lately, either.

So, I guess that’s–


ELLIOTT: (looking at the door to his quarters) Starry?

STARWALKER: Yes, Elliott?

ELLIOTT: (The viewscreen on the door shows the corridor outside: a drone is standing patiently before the closed panel. It has a tray balanced on one hand, bearing a steaming mug and a small device.) Why is there a drone at my door looking like a waiter?

SW: It’s been sixteen hours since you ate anything. And I found the scanner you were looking for earlier.

ELLIOTT: I- um. (He blinks.) You didn’t have to have him bring it to me here.

SW: I know. You’ve been working hard, I thought… you might want to know it had been found.

ELLIOTT: Okay. Um, come in.

(The door opens and the drone trundles in. He comes up to Elliott and lifts the tray so that the engineer can retrieve the battered-looking scanner and mug easily. He sniffs the mug cautiously and his eyebrows lift in surprise.)

Hot chocolate? I didn’t even know we had any on board.

SW: I am fully stocked. It has a full complement of proteins, vitamins and minerals added to it.

ELLIOTT: Trying to fatten me up?

SW: You only had one meal today. Someone has to make sure you eat properly.

ELLIOTT: (grins at the nearest screen and puts the scanner in a thigh pocket of his coveralls. He pats the drone on the head.) You sound like someone’s mother.

SW: I’m supposed to take care of my crew.

ELLIOTT: (with a fading smile) I know. Something wrong?

SW: No, I am functioning properly right now.

ELLIOTT: I know, I didn’t mean that.

SW: My drone found your scanner in a duct under the Bridge. It must have fallen out of your pocket when you were working in there.

ELLIOTT: Right, right. Thanks.

SW: Do you need anything else tonight?

ELLIOTT: (sips his drink and licks his lips.) Hmm? Oh, no, I’m good. Thanks, Starry girl.

SW: Okay. Goodnight, Elliott. (The drone trundles out of the engineer’s quarters and the door whispers closed behind him.)

ELLIOTT: ‘Night.


Is she gone? I think she is. Well, that was weird. But nice. I can’t remember the last time someone brought me hot chocolate. And this is my favourite scanner – do you know how long it takes to get one of these things properly calibrated? I was dreading having to start over – it took me months to get this one to work right. They say you can tell a lot about an engineer from his tools and, well. Yeah, I’m not sure there’s anything in that.

Y’know, now that I think about it, she didn’t answer my question. AIs aren’t supposed to do that – they’re not supposed to be able to do that. But she does a lot that an AI isn’t supposed to do, like send a drone to me with a bedtime drink and a lost tool.

The weirdest part is that I–

Anyway. this is a technical report. Right now, as of this moment, we’re good to go. I won’t promise what things will look like in the morning. I guess that’ll have to do, and just hope that the whitecoats don’t make a decision that’s gonna kill us all.

On that cheery note, I’m out. Goodnight world. Goodnight, Starry.

End report.

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4 Responses to “Ready state”

  1. David Says:

    Very well done! I am hooked on this story now. The characters are well imagined, the story is well written, and the ship is something new entirely. Great idea, and I look forward to seeing what you have in store for us.

  2. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, David! I can promise that there’s much more to come. Hope you stay on the Starwalker ride – it won’t be smooth, but hopefully it’ll still be fun!

  3. Jen Says:

    Yay Elliott! You rock Melanie, these guys are awesome.

  4. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, Jen! I adore Elliott. Don’t tell the rest of the crew, but he’s one of my favourites.