12 Apr

Reintegration

Chief Engineer's log, 13:47, 18 March 2214 
Location: Wide orbit near Earth Moonbase, Home System 
Status: Stationary and powered down 
Log location: Neural link from Engineering immersion chair A to 
internal ship systems, nexus 38871-H83MW

 

(Elliott is walking the circuits again with a blob of light following high over his head. Black glass surfaces gleam all around him, bouncing the blob’s light back at him. A knee-high dog runs in circles around him, tail wagging and tongue lolling. Its body is made up entirely of shifting lines of code. It pauses to dog-grin up at the engineer, and he grunts in response. With a yip, the code-dog bounds on ahead.

The dark block that holds the central AI code rises out of the ground before him. When the blob’s light falls on it, the dog is already sitting before it, looking up at the blank, black face. Elliott heaves a sigh and rubs his face as he pulls a handset out of his toolbelt. He looks tired.

He clips the handset to the black surface in front of him and a panel flickers into life. Then he reaches out to his left and makes a motion in the air, causing a console to appear in the air. Code shines and trickles around him in the dark as a comms line is opened to the captain’s cabin.)

CAPTAIN: (looking calm and smooth-haired) Yes, Monaghan? Are internal comms back up?

ELLIOTT: Not exactly. This is a direct line from inside the systems.

CAPT: I see. (He doesn’t sound pleased by that, but moves on.) How are things going?

ELLIOTT: Safety net is installed, captain.

CAPT: And it’s all looking good? It will work?

ELLIOTT: I built it. Of course it’ll work.

CAPT: You said you couldn’t test it.

ELLIOTT: (shrugs) I did small-scale simulations, but the real proof’s in the using. We’ll know after I wake her up if it’s doing what it should or not.

CAPT: Sounds risky.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, which leads me on to the other thing I have to tell you.

CAPT: (settling into a grim expression) I’m not going to like this, am I.

ELLIOTT: Starry’s embedded herself in the backup systems.

CAPT: What does that mean?

ELLIOTT: Means she took bits of her own code and put them in charge of running life support. It also means I have to shut it down to put her back together again.

CAPT: (frowning) She didn’t need to do that.

ELLIOTT: You can argue with her about that when I wake her up again. Which I’m about to do.

CAPT: Now?

ELLIOTT: The net’s in place. No other reason to wait. (His eyes narrow at the captain’s image on the holo-console.) Is there?

CAPT: No, none at all. What do you need?

ELLIOTT: I have to take down life support. Someone should keep an eye on the consoles.

CAPT: How long will they be down?

ELLIOTT: (shrugs) Hard to say; depends how the reintegration goes. Couple of hours, maybe.

CAPT: Environmentals should be fine for that long. Can you broadcast a message to the crew?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, I can do that. (His hands are already busy on another console interface, manually activating channels to be able to speak to the whole crew.)

CAPT: Are you jacked in? You plan on doing it all from inside the systems?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, best way for work like this.

CAPT: Isn’t that dangerous? If you’re in there when she reactivates…

ELLIOTT: (attention still on the other console; he doesn’t meet the captain’s frown) I know. It’ll be fine. Her security protocols already recognised me.

CAPT: Monaghan, I don’t like this.

ELLIOTT: (turns a defensive scowl on the captain’s image) You going to order me out of here, sir?

CAPT: (presses his lips together for a moment, then decides not to answer that question) It would be safer if we docked at the Moonbase before we shut any of the systems down.

ELLIOTT: And have her wake up to find herself hooked up to something? She’ll freak out.

CAPT: I do not like this, Monaghan.

ELLIOTT: (looking at the comm channel flatly) I’ll broadcast when I’m ready to go. Captain.

CAPT: I will dock if it takes too long. After eight hours, the heat loss will become a problem.

ELLIOTT: Eight hours. Got it. (His hand lifts towards the control that shuts off the channel.)

CAPT: And Monaghan…

ELLIOTT: (hesitates.)

CAPT: (sombrely) Good luck. Bring her back.

ELLIOTT: (nods) Yessir.

(The comms panel closes. The engineer sighs and rubs the back of his neck, then turns to the other panel to continue to hack his way into the broadcast system. It takes a couple of minutes to divert power to the appropriate sections of the ship and get it all online.)

 

Dammit, this is a lot of effort to go to just to tell everyone something. But it’ll take the captain a while to spread the word himself, as he has to go the long way and do it all on foot. The internal comms would take even longer to get online. Hopefully he’ll get someone on the monitoring consoles soon.

Just as long as it’s not anyone likely to do anything to my body while I sleep. I usually lock the Engineering doors so that I’m not bothered while I’m in here. Especially with the drones being as weird as they are at the moment.

I’m pretty sure most of them will be done with their tasks by now. I wonder if they’re all gathering around the immersion couch, watching me lie there. Okay, that’s just creepy. Probably best not to think about it.

Well, the broadcast system is online. Send only; easier than trying to hook up two-way communication. Sensor relays give me a headache. Besides, why give them the opportunity to bitch and whine at me?

 

ELLIOTT: (clears his throat) All right, Starwalker crew people. And, uh, guests. I’m about to shut life support down to get Starry back online. That means it’s about to get dark, and you’re going to lose gravity. So you’d better strap in quick or get ready to float away. I’ll try to do it in stages, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t all go off at once.

If everything goes well, I’ll have it back up in a couple of hours. Try not to do anything disastrous while I’m busy. Monaghan out.

(The broadcast is deactivated and the panel falls into standby mode. Elliott closes it with a frown, then casts the Securipup a glance. The coded dog is sitting next to him, watching with infinite patience.)

ELLIOTT: (to the dog) Well. Time to get this show on the road. Let’s start with gravity generation, shall we?

SECURIPUP: (wags its tail against the black glass ground.)

 

Big help that stupid thing is. Still, at least I’m not in here talking to myself. That would be weird.

Shutting down backup systems. You’re not really supposed to be able to do this without being docked, but I wasn’t kidding when I told the captain that Starry would freak out. We need to keep this as simple as possible if she’s going to come back all right, and that means ripping out failsafes, disabling life support, and stitching her code back together. By hand. Because no way am I going to trust her code to some automatic compiler. There hasn’t been a compiler designed that would be capable of understanding her code.

Wow, actually, there aren’t many failsafes in here to take out. Starry took out all the big blocks already; I guess she didn’t like them either. It saves me a heap of work, so I can’t complain, though I think we’re going to have to talk about disaster management when all this is done.

Maybe I’ll leave that to the captain. He’s way better at telling her off than I am.

Not that she was wrong. I’m sure she had good reasons for weakening the failsafes. Hell, some of them were turned against her. I guess no system is perfect, huh?

 

(Elliott’s hands are busy on the console he has opened up before him. Part of it is embedded into the black glass block in front of him, inside which Starry’s giant, central avatar sleeps. The rest of the console wraps around him, giving him easy access to the different sections. Code blocks fall away from the gravity generation controls, fizzling into nothing as they reach his feet.

Across the network, a Starry avatar-shard freezes, her hands halfway through a monitoring motion. The image compacts down into a small ball and drops into the network under the surface. The console she was standing at folds up and goes dark as it sinks into the ground.

Half a second later, the coded ball pops up on Elliott’s left side, pulsing gently. With the gravity generators safely shut down, he turns his attention to it and unpicks the ball so he can look for tags that might tell him where this particular Starry-shard came from.)

 

This could take a while. She couldn’t have left markers to make it easier for me to piece her back together? No, of course not. She was too busy making sure we were okay.

Maybe I should tell her off, after all. She deserves it. Stupid ship. Stupid weird AI. She had to go and be all special and selfless, didn’t she? I need to build her some preservation protocols.

Luckily, I have some tools that should make this a little less like a search for a needle in a haystack.

 

(The engineer pulls a unit from his toolbelt and clips it onto the block next to his diagnostic handset. A few flips of his fingers uploads the unit’s contents and sets a scan running over the AI’s code, looking for broken or incomplete code strings. All those places that she left hanging when she fractured herself are picked out and highlighted with tiny red markers. Elliott braces his feet more comfortably and starts to compare the shard’s code with the holes in the AI, to see where it might fit in.

It’s a long search, twisting the code ball around and around, tilting it this way to fit into that hole and that way to compare against another bit of code. Eventually, though, there is a hole where it seems to complete what’s there. Elliott seals it into position and places it above the console, where he can keep track of it.

Then it’s on to the next shard. He has to do a system at a time, shutting down waste processing, light, inertial dampening, heat, and air as he goes. Time takes on little meaning as he works through each match, unaware of how cold, dark, and weightless it is for the crew on the outside. The list of little red markers grows shorter. The shard-avatars are stitched back into where they came from. Some code appears to be extra, created so that the monitoring would work properly, but Elliott leaves it where it seems to fit.)

 

There. Last one. Pretty sure that’s it now. How long did that all take? Woah, the internal clock says nearly four hours. Doesn’t feel like that at all to me.

If I was on the outside, I’d be stiff and sore by now, but I don’t feel anything like that in here. One of the benefits of jacking in. I guess the immersion chair’s feeds are keeping my body fed and alert, too. Lucky for me, the immersion chairs manage themselves and its support systems weren’t shut down with everything else. They say that people have survived for months in immersion chairs before. Same technology as emergency pods.

So that’s it; now we’re ready to get Starry back up and running. Just one last check, and… woah.

 

(Elliott looks around and stops, staring past the light of the console he has been working at. Beyond its glow, there’s complete darkness. The green threads under the ground are gone, and not even the black glass surfaces throw reflections back at him any more. It’s as if the virtual system stops just beyond the console’s light.

The ship is truly shut down, dark and silent, inside and out. Even the Securipup is gone.)

 

This… does not feel good. I need to get Starry back up quick. I have no idea how I’ll even find the immersion link to get out.

Don’t be an idiot, Monaghan. There’s a link from here to there. Sure, it’s less jarring if I go to it, but I can always hit the emergency exit and be dumped back in my body. Don’t panic over nothing.

Need to get Starry up. Make sure she hooks into the systems properly. Focus: this is important. Not a time to fuck up and hook up the engines backwards; that never goes well.

 

(Elliott stretches his arms out to the sides and takes a deep breath, though in a virtual interface, none of it is necessary. He huffs as he relaxes again, then starts to manipulate the console before him with careful gestures of his hands. A tense frown focusses his attention on each command.

First, the reintegrated code is dismissed, and it zooms from the holding area above the console into the block of glass. Each little packet zips towards its home, settling into the larger whole of Starry’s core code without fuss. Their little points of light dim, fading into the waiting black.

Next, Elliott activates a power feed to the block and pulls up the initiation protocols.)

 

Better do this manually, or it’ll reset some of her logs. She won’t like that. We want our Starry back, not a fresh copy. Sure, she could probably reintegrate the archives later, but there’s no telling what that might do to her. No missing memories for our girl.

The captain asked me the other day if the new hardware would affect her at all, and I didn’t know what to tell him. It’s not impossible, but that’s true for most things where Starry is concerned. I’m mostly trying not to think about that. And failing, obviously. She’s software, not hardware. She’ll be fine.

Anyway. Initiation protocols. Let’s do this.

 

(Light kindles inside the block, illuminating the giant avatar trapped within. The block is sunk into the ground; only half of it protrudes above the surface. Starry is still standing inside it with one hand outstretched and her head lifted, and her eyes are still closed. Looked at closely, the tiny motes of her code begin to move, spinning into complex dances. One section trips off the next, which trips the next, and the dance ripples through her.

From where Elliott stands, he can see tiny twitches move across the avatar. She shivers and her fingers move. Her arm drifts down to her side as if she’s returning to a default position and she settles into a stationary pose. The activity across her surface accelerates, one section sparking off the next.

Abruptly, she gasps, her eyes snapping open. She blinks a couple of times as if processing something, then looks around with a bewildered expression.

Elliott is busy working with the initiation protocols, weeding out the resets and flicking each part through for start-up when he’s satisfied that it’s ready. He doesn’t notice Starry’s motions until a hand slaps the inside of the glass just above his console. He jumps and stares up at her.)

 

Holy fuck. Well, she’s awake. But the block… how come that’s not falling away? It should be… I’ll have to look at it in a minute. Jeez, I only got one little human brain out here, y’know.

 

(She doesn’t seem to have noticed him at first, beating at the inside of the block and trying to find a way out. She looks frightened and a little angry.

Then she spots Elliott and leans towards him, bracing her hands on the glass. She mouths something at him earnestly, though no sound escapes the glass. ‘Help me’. She says it a couple of times before the engineer winces and nods. He starts to reach up to touch the place where her hand rests, but arrests the motion before it completes.)

 

Yeah, yeah. That’s what I’m trying to do! Just hold on, Starry. Almost there. Almost…

 

(Elliott turns back to his console and swipes at the controls with a scowl. Something slithers in the dark and a slender thread of white light trickles into view. It coils itself up, rising from the black surface and rearing back from the surface of the block holding the AI. The engineer thumps a button and the needle of light stabs forward, right through the glass and into the avatar. He winces again in sympathy.

Starry staggers against the glass pane behind her, one hand curling around the white needle stuck into her side. Her eyes squeeze shut. After a couple of seconds, she relaxes and looks down at it, then pushes herself up to stand again.)

 

Good. She’s assimilating the data. That’s just the sensor feeds to get her started. Let’s get the others hooked up, too.

 

(Elliott’s hands move quickly over the console, and there’s more slithering in the dark, all around him. Thin snakes of light wriggle up into being, each colour denoting a different section of the ship’s systems. Yellow, red, green, blue. Each leads away from the nexus to other parts of the network. Each one rears up and spears through the block into the avatar, making her double up in pain. She has barely got used to one before the next one comes.

Elliott is focussed on his work, pretending that he can’t see her in his peripheral vision. The tension in his jaw gives away his discomfort at the sight of her struggling.)

 

There, that’s all of them. She’s connected. But that block… I need a way to get her out of it.

 

(Starry’s shoulders are hunched as she looks down at the data feeds speared into her. She closes her eyes and grips onto a couple of them, as if she’s concentrating. The needles of light swell as she pushes data out through them, thickening into ropes. They strain against the black glass walls around her, crazing them with cracks, and Elliott grins at her.)

 

Good girl. She’s doing it herself: hooking herself in, taking control of her systems. And… wow.

 

(As the ropes of data swell and extend out into the systems around him, they branch out to create the visible networks under his feet. The darkness is chased away by rising light, the competing colours mixing into a healthy glow that spiders out from the nexus that holds the avatar. It runs across the ground and into the squat forms of the deactivated systems. The dull black blocks come to life, code spinning brightly in their cores and expanding their shapes. They extend into strange, sweeping architectures as their functions come online, rising from the bleak landscape into the cityscape that Elliott saw in his other trips inside Starry’s head.

Even the sky is laced with colour as the network comes alive. There’s no sun or moon, just a bright, perfect sweep of colour.

Elliott gazes around at it all, his grin still in place. A part of him might be looking for glitches in the data feeds, but mostly, he’s too pleased to pay it much attention. When he glances back at the avatar, though, his smile fades.

Starry is bigger than the last time he looked, and she’s getting larger with each passing second, like Alice after drinking a tonic. The data feeds are becoming more and more integrated with her: they’re no longer sticking out of her; instead, they’re melding with the golden seams of her shipsuit. They’re becoming a part of her.

The glass block cracks audibly as she grows taller and is compressed against its walls. Too late, the engineer starts to back away from it. With a last screech, it explodes, and Elliott covers his head with his arms as he’s thrown back.

The avatar is still growing, still expanding into all of her systems. She climbs out of her sunken hole and stretches up and up, and doesn’t seem to see her fallen engineer. Her head is lifted as she gazes at the world around her.

Elliott pushes himself up onto his hands and looks up. A massive foot is coming down towards him. He scrabbles.)

 

Oh, fuck.

What do you think of this post?
  • Love it (4)
  • OMG (8)
  • Hilarious (1)
  • Awww (1)

5 Responses to “Reintegration”

  1. targetdrone Says:

    yay.. starry is back!!

    now lets hope she doesnt lose elliott in the wakeup process 😉

  2. mjkj Says:

    Wow, great one 😮

    Yayy, Starry is back *hugs her*

    I just hope she still is our Starry – and yes, I also hope she does not kill Elliot in the progress of starting/waking up … and I also hope she does not get too big…

    mjkj

  3. Marcus Says:

    Wonderful to see the update and to see Starry back.
    Through reading everything I’ve looked forward to seeing the usual “Oh fuck” endings on chapters. So much like Dr Who’s “What” and “Oh Whiskers” from Thundercats.

  4. Medic Says:

    Emergency Exit!

    to be followed by “Damn it Starry, watch where your stepping in there!”

    hehe, Starry is online, but… how has the new hardware affected her. No matter how careful the manufacture, the new hardware is still going to operate at diff speeds than the old.

    Hugs for Starry, and a beer for Elliot.

  5. mjkj Says:

    *lol*

    That might be it, Medic 🙂

    But hopefully that watchdog sniffs him out first and prevents him from being crushed…

    mjkj