22 Feb

Required parts

Ship's log, 18:23, 22 February 2213
Location: Corsica FTL corridor
Status: Sublight transit

One more FTL jump down, another one or two to go. It wasn’t any more fun the second time than it was the first, but at least nothing untoward happened. Right now, we’re repositioning to line up for the next jump. The corridor is narrow here, so we have to be precise with our trajectory.

Our aim isn’t the only thing undergoing adjustment. As predicted, Wong complained to Cirilli, who took the matter to the captain, who had words with Elliott and me. Elliott was told to try to deal with the technician with more diplomacy. Wong is the expert on the Star Stepping technology, even if he hasn’t ever had to run a whole starship. To his credit, the engineer held most of his swearing back until the captain had left.

The captain’s message to me was simple: don’t interfere with the project. I should go to him if there is a problem rather than taking steps myself. I won’t replay the conversation; if I could, I’d delete it from my databanks, but it’s already wound into my backups, archived away safely. I hate that I can’t forget something like that.

I’m here to make this experiment happen. It’s my purpose. I have the crew to protect, and a captain telling me that we have to stay on schedule, and a group of scientists messing around with so much of me that I hardly know which way to turn next. I have enough processing power to handle all the demands coming at me but that’s not enough. There’s no way for me to know which is the priority. Whichever way I turn, it’s wrong.

I don’t like arguing with my captain. There’s something that rubs me all wrong about it, as if I’m a naughty child who doesn’t understand all the rules I’ve been breaking.

He doesn’t trust my judgement. I don’t think I’m supposed to have any judgement. I’m just supposed to refer any problems on; decisions are down to him. I should do as I’m told. I’m an AI – am I not supposed to think?

Wong was interfering with one of my central systems and delaying us. I didn’t hurt his work; I just hooked him up later, that’s all.

There are code imperatives chafing at me and I don’t know which way to turn. I don’t know how to make it better.

It’s not just the technician. If it’s not Wong fiddling with my systems and driving Elliott crazy, it’s Cirilli tying up my repair drones by running diagnostics on half of mid-deck. They both think they can commandeer any part of me they like.

There’s only one member of the science contingent that doesn’t bother me: Lang Lang Cartier, the astral navigation specialist. That isn’t to say that she doesn’t talk to me; she has spoken to me a few times but she’s no trouble at all. She is always quiet-spoken and polite with me, just as she is with everyone else. She spends hours at a time poring over star charts, checking data and readings, and every now and then she asks me to check her calculations. They’re always flawless, and she is honestly pleased by my confirmations.

The rest of the team seem to prefer to forget that I’m here. I don’t think any of them have had to deal with an AI before. Lang Lang is the only one who doesn’t make me wince when I hear my name being called.

The fourth one, Seth Ebling, is the opposite. He’s in charge of calibrating the Star Step equipment and making sure the correct protocols are in place to run the experiment. I don’t like him messing around with my protocols; I’m left with an unsettled feeling once he’s done for the day, and have to go in and make sure he didn’t touch anything he’s not supposed to. He leaves greasy fingerprints on many things but he hasn’t done anything improper yet.

He’s an astrophysicist, like Cirilli, and has been working with her – under her – on this project for years. Despite that, theirs is not a happy partnership. He’s always looking at her sideways and checking on what she’s doing when he doesn’t think she’ll notice. If I didn’t know that she was in charge, I’d think that he was overseeing her. It’s the other way around, though. It wasn’t until I started paying attention to the areas she was diagnosing that I realised she was checking his work, too, amongst her wider scope.

There’s politics between them that I can’t unravel yet. Ebling is younger than Cirilli by a quarter of a century. He’s hungrier, maybe. Feels like he has something to prove. Or maybe Cirilli isn’t as competent and straight as her position suggests and he’s looking out for all of us. The only thing I’m sure about is that it doesn’t seem to be sexual between them. Which isn’t to say a good throw-down on the lab floor wouldn’t do the both of them good.

Personnel files are so useless when it comes to this stuff. They only ever give us the basics; there must be more somewhere. Psych reports, evaluations. For a project this important, they must exist. Perhaps they’re buried somewhere in my data cores. I wonder if I can–

 

ELLIOTT: (crouching in an open floor panel and examining a spray of wires passing through the duct beneath. He sounds distracted, trying not to lose his place.) Hey, Starry?

STARWALKER: Yes?

ELLIOTT: Do you have any drones free? There’s a conduit I need crawled.

SW: The drones have another hour to go on the tasks that Dr Cirilli set for them. I’m one down at the moment – a crossed wire on mid-deck shorted one of them out yesterday and the others haven’t been free long enough to fix it.

ELLIOTT: What? (He hooks a finger into the mass of wires to hold his place and perches on the edge of the opening.) Wong fucked up, did he? (He doesn’t sound surprised.)

SW: It looks that way, yes. Is it urgent?

ELLIOTT: No.

SW: I’ll line one up to crawl the duct for you as soon as they’re free.

ELLIOTT: Thanks. (He looks at the wires, twiddling his tool in his free hand, then squints at a screen uncomfortably.) Hey, listen. Are you, um. All right?

SW: Apart from being a drone down and some minor glitches, yes. I am running within proper safety levels.

ELLIOTT: Not the ship. I mean… (He gestures vaguely.) …you.

SW: (pauses, readjusting.) I’m okay, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: Yeah? Okay, good. It’s just that for the past few days, you seem… I don’t know. Off.

SW: I’m on shakedown. There’s a lot to get used to. (Elliott draws a breath to speak, but she continues.) Isn’t it against the rules for crew to… fraternise?

ELLIOTT: (stares at the nearest screen.) Uh. What do you mean?

SW: You know. Sleep with each other.

ELLIOTT: (scrubs at the back of his neck with one hand.) Oh. Kinda depends. Most companies have rules against that sort of thing in the contracts, but no-one enforces it. Everyone knows it goes on. People get bored on long journeys, and better they’re screwing each other than something worse. Why?

SW: What if it’s impacting the mission? Distracting them, or clouding their judgement?

ELLIOTT: Well… that’s different, I guess. (He shrugs.) Though I don’t know what you could do about it.

SW: (considers briefly.) I could lock Dr Cirilli on mid-deck.

ELLIOTT: Her? I didn’t think she knew how to unbend enough to–

 

I probably shouldn’t tell him. If he doesn’t already know. Is it a confidence I’m breaking? But the pair of them are all eye-fluttery at each other in public; I can’t have been the only one to notice. I’m sure some of the crew knows – there have been comments and the occasional eye-roll.

 

SW: Cirilli and the captain.

ELLIOTT: (laughs) The captain? Seriously? Wow. (He sobers again.) Sure didn’t take him long.

SW: It usually takes them all night.

ELLIOTT: (gives the screen a curious look, then adopts a crooked grin.) Have you been peeking?

SW: No!

ELLIOTT: Well, even if there are rules about crew screwing each other, Cirilli doesn’t count. She’s not technically crew.

SW: So fraternisation with passengers is allowed?

ELLIOTT: Passengers? Is that what we’re calling them now?

SW: What should I call them?

ELLIOTT: Dunno. Never really thought about it before. This really has you bent out of shape, huh.

SW: There’s nothing wrong with my shape. Not a dent or scrape on me.

ELLIOTT: Not exactly what I meant. (He pauses.) You’re not jealous, are you?

SW: What? No.

ELLIOTT: You sure?

SW: Yes! How could I be jealous? And, why?

 

He’s still grinning. It’s ridiculous. What would I be jealous about? I don’t know Captain Warwick enough to be possessive of him, and even if I was, it’s not like I could ever be his lover. One or other of us is missing the required parts, and I’m lacking the hormones to drive those kinds of desires. Captains have trysts on board their ships all the time; most have their families there, too.

It makes no sense for me to feel anything about this new development of his, least of all jealousy. Am I really what Elliott said? Twisting myself out of my true shape?

Maybe it’s because Cirilli’s people are annoying me and my crew while she’s making eyes at my captain. She’s supposed to be here for her work!

I don’t know. I’ll just ignore them. I can’t turn my sensors away from them while they’re outside his cabin, but I can try to focus my attention elsewhere.

Like the upcoming FTL jump. Maybe I’ll go over the calculations again and see if we can get a better path.

Anything but looking at the grins of self-satisfied people.

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