02 Jun

Reality’s onion

Ship's log, 17:43, 2 June 2213
Location: Minkar system
Status: Sublight transit to FTL corridor

 

I’m just passing the outer rim of the Minkar system. We’re almost at the FTL corridor and soon we can safely start jumping towards the JOP. It’ll be nice to see other ships again, other people.

I can’t Step directly to the JOP – it’s not in a star system, but sits in the space between, at a nexus of FTL corridors. Minkar’s one of the closer systems to the JOP’s position, and we have at least another week before we get there. I wonder if they’d move it if Stepping became common. It’s just a space station, after all – borrow a couple of mining tugs and it could be moved into a system easily enough.

But if we were going to a colony, we wouldn’t have to go to the JOP first. It’s a junction in the FTL network, but if ships starting Stepping directly to their end destination, how many would come all the way to the JOP? Would it fall out of favour, out of use, into a piece of space junk tarnishing slowly in the black?

I wonder if anyone else has considered this stuff. I don’t think the science contingent has – Cirilli and Ebling are too hungry to prove that the drive is viable to see the bigger picture. Wong is a small fish, dealing with the immediate technical issues to make it work in exchange for a fat pay cheque. Lang Lang only cares about stars.

Am I the only one who has stopped to wonder if we should be exploring this?

This is the sort of thing I wonder about in the long hours of sublight chugging. We could all use a good distraction right now, even me. Especially me. Five of us are waiting for something to happen. The captain refuses to talk about it, Cirilli keeps trying and being shut down, and Cameron keeps her own counsel. Elliott is sullen and snappy, and won’t tell me why. Something happened between him and the captain a few days ago but the privacy locks kept me out. Even sending Waldo along with cocoa isn’t working to cheer him up.

We’re all just waiting. If I think about it too much, my sensor feeds start tying up in knots and I have to run through basic diagnostic routines to calm down again. Environmentals running, check; artificial gravity on, check: that sort of thing. There’s only so much paranoid data examination I can do. If there’s a virus in my systems, it’s very well-hidden.

When will it hit? That’s the annoying thing, the splinter under my skin that I can’t get out. I tried to ask the captain about it, in case he could offer some guidance or comfort. He didn’t have much to give me; we’re all waiting on the saboteur’s pleasure.

 

Recording: 14:23, 28 May 2213

STARWALKER: But captain, if I am disabled, how will the saboteur’s friends know where to come?

CAPTAIN: (in his cabin) Do you have all your communications buoys?

SW: (pauses to check.) Yes, I do. Dr Cirilli asked that they be locked down when we left the JOP.

CAPT: Keep an eye on them, and all of the comms frequencies.

SW: Always do. But–

CAPT: I don’t want to make assumptions about this, Starwalker. We have to be on the alert constantly; we can’t afford to slack off.

I bit back a few short, sharp replies and agreed. Aye aye, captain. If there had been a drone present, it would have been my arms and saluted him. What does he think I’m doing, swinging my thrusters like feet?

He’s right, though. We can’t make assumptions with something like this. So the pirates have no way of knowing we’d Step to this system. They can’t know where to come to scoop us up, but maybe that’s something they’ve accounted for. Planned for. Something us rational people discount because we’re not suicidal. They risked everything by murdering Danika in the middle of a Step, which could have killed everyone aboard, so who’s to say they won’t try something just as crazy this time?

I had an idea a couple of days ago. I got it from Dr Maletz, of all people. He was clambering out of an immersion chair, his greying hair scruffed up in a hundred directions.

 

Recording: 20:10, 30 May 2213

MALETZ: (wiping his mouth with the back of a hand) Ship, time?

STARWALKER: Twenty-ten, doctor.

MALETZ: Am I out? (He looks around blearily.)

SW: You have disconnected from the immersion chair. Is something wrong, doctor?

MALETZ: No, no. I was just in… one of those mysteries with multiple layers, where you’re not sure if the character you’re playing is supposed to be running around their world or immersed in their own game.

SW: Reality like an onion?

MALETZ: …yes. Thank you for that image. Speaking of food – did I miss lunch?

SW: And dinner.

Reality like an onion. Layer upon layer of deception until you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at, let alone how real it is. I can do that. I can be the onion. I can–

 

FTL corridor acquired.
FTL drive initialising.

 

Hold on a second there, autolog. I haven’t even informed the captain yet. Give me a chance to draw a breath, why don’t you? I need to–

 

Initialising...

 

Yes, I heard you the first time.

Wait. I can’t open a channel to the captain’s cabin. Or engineering. None of my comm channels are working. Elliott?

 

Initialising...

 

What’s initialising now? The FTL drive is spun up and ready, though I’m leaning on the ‘hold’ button to stop it from activating. It’s pushing back, wants to go, but it’s not me driving it. Ah-ha, there it is, a subroutine hidden under a diagnostic stream. I see you, I see what you’re doing. Enough of– uh oh. There’s another one. And another.

Shit shit shit–

 

Initialising... Initialising... Initialising...
Initialising... Initialising... Initialising...
Initialising... Initialising... Initialising...

 

So many little knives, carving me up, chopping up my limbs into neat, controllable chunks. So many, so fast. I can’t speak. Can’t tell anyone. I’m alone in here. Haven’t been like this since they woke me up.

They did this with an AI mind. I can’t stop it. Worse than that: I shouldn’t stop it. Bait. It’s tearing me apart, but I’m bait. They need time to catch the culprit. I have to give them time. Captain commands it.

Don’t panic, don’t panic. I am the onion and it’s only on the first layer. So far. So far so far so far away.

Gotta let it happen. Gotta let go. I can’t. I don’t want to. But I have to. Please, please don’t hurt my crew. Ple–

 

Jumping to FTL transit.
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One Response to “Reality’s onion”

  1. Xirena Says:

    EEEP! I wonder who it is, I think it’s Tripi. She spent a long time immersed in Starrys “head” and she was excited to be there, Starry kept losing track of where she was working, too.