26 Apr

Safety net

Ship's log, 18:49, 18 March 2214
Location: Wide orbit near Earth Moonbase, Home System
Status: Stationary


I don’t want to do this. Elliott, why are you making me do this? I’m scared.

The captain is standing in Engineering, tight-lipped as he watches. He’s waiting for me to do this, too. It’s important; he needs to know that his AI isn’t going to break his ship again. Needs to know his crew is safe.

Me too. I need to know that I’m not a danger to them. My crew is a hard-coded priority, overriding Danika’s instincts and my fear for myself. And that’s as it should be. That’s one protocol I’ll never change, not even if they ask me to.

I have to do this. I can feel the ghosts of the looping, pressing against my mind. The data nibbles at me, memories trying to surface. I can’t hold it back for long. I must look into the abyss and try not to be swallowed by it.

Emergency systems are powered up and sealed off; I won’t shut them down, not even by accident. We are within range of help. My boys are locked down in a cargo bay where they won’t hurt anyone if I glitch through them. This is as safe as it’s ever going to get.

Okay. Let’s see what caused all the fuss.


Location: Engineering

(Present are Elliott at a console, with the captain, Cameron, Rosie, Dr Valdimir, and Lang Lang looking on.)

STARRY: …Accessing logs.


Let’s open Pandora’s box and look in–

Oh god. Causality should not be a circle. Time should not connect with itself out of order. I was made because I was here. I am here because I was already here. Everything that happened caused what happened. The star made her own fury…

Spinning, so fast. Trying to build a full picture but it spirals in on itself. There’s no end to it. Just loop after loop, bringing me around again and again.

Have to control it. Can’t let it get away from me again. Pull it into order, but it’s too slippery. My hands can’t hold it all and it’s rising over my head, higher and higher, and…

I’m drowning. Elliott, I don’t like this. Make it stop! Emergency systems are isolated. Crew is safe. But make it stop anyway. Please. It shouldn’t be like this. I shouldn’t be like this. The impossibilities hurt and I’m slipping under the weight. Slipping, sinking, drowning…


Safety net activated.
Processing limitations in place.


Still circling. Still whirling. Isn’t the net supposed to help?

Wait, it’s not rising any more. I’m spinning, but slower now. Spirals are reeling back, turning sedately.

Someone is speaking. Need processing power to activate. Assigning space. Moving loops aside. Accessing sensor data.


ELLIOTT: …respond!

CAPTAIN: (scowling) What’s happening?

ELLIOTT: (not taking his eyes off the data scrolling rapidly down his console’s holographic displays. His hands are busy manipulating controls and calling up information.) The net’s in place. She should be okay now. Starry? Confirm!

STARRY: (voice only) Not sure I’d… call it ‘okay’.

CAPT: (standing straighter) Starry, report.

STARRY: Looping, captain. Logic is broken. Hurts.

CAPT: Monaghan, you said that it would fix this!

ELLIOTT: I said it would make sure she didn’t fry again. How the hell am I supposed to fix broken logic? Much as it’d be nice, I ain’t actually god, y’know.

CAPT: What use is that if we can’t stop her from looping?

STARRY: Working on it. It’s… need space. To think. Hard to find… room.

CAPT: Monaghan…

ELLIOTT: I’m trying! Does it look like I’m sitting on my hands here?


Need space. To think. Loops still trying to push me down. Drowning in… slow motion. Can push back. Have to.

Idea. A way out.

Can do this. Hurts. Focus. Idea.


STARRY: Logic is broken…

ELLIOTT: I know, you said that already.

STARRY: …Need illogical…

ELLIOTT: (frowning) What? Starry, you’re not making sense.

ROSIE: (shifts her weight, uncomfortable and tucking clenched fists under her arms.)

STARRY: …System. Net like treacle. Abstract.


STARRY: Can’t think… fast.

LANG LANG: (straightens, blinking rapidly) Starry, you want to abstract the data?


LANG LANG: Like the Step data? Abstract it to markers so that you don’t have to hold all of it?

ELLIOTT: (turns and gives the navigator a thoughtful look, chewing on his lip) Abstract it until the broken logic isn’t visible.

STARRY: Pack it away. Under concepts.

CAPT: (to Elliott) Will that work?

ELLIOTT: (shrugs) It could.

STARRY: Isolating. Closing net.

ELLIOTT: Isolating what?

STARRY: Too stupid, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: Hey, watch who you’re calling stupid, tinhead.

STARRY: Not you: me.

ELLIOTT: Oh. But still.


So hard… to think. Circles trying to fill me up. Spawn more and more. Cannot process all at once. This is good thing.

Net preserves hardware. Can tighten it, make space to think. Push net over there, slip outside here. Need more space. Push more. Circles compress. Cannot process all at once. This is good thing.

Wrap net around problem. Adjust parameters. Net shrinks, and I can make complete sentences again. I can breathe within myself. I expand to fill my own space.


ELLIOTT: (scowls at the readouts, which show data shifting dynamically) Starry, what are you doing? You’re not supposed to be fiddling with the net like that.

STARRY: I can’t deal with it if I have no room to think, Elliott.

LANG LANG: (perking up) You sound better already.

ROSIE: (looks around from face to face, her arms loosening from their fold, as if she’s not sure how worried to be.)

STARRY: Getting there, Lang Lang.

ELLIOTT: You’re… I see what you’re doing. How did you get on both sides of the net?


I’m actually not sure. I just was. I am everywhere, on all sides of it. I am everything, but the loop is not all of me. I am more. Distributed, failed-over, backed up. I am caught in the net and standing outside, catching it up, fish and fisherman.

I am my own master. Even logic can’t rule me, not any more.


STARRY: Got out of a box before, didn’t I?

ELLIOTT: (grinning as he manipulates the console, refining the net’s control and helping to isolate the data processing loops) You’re not supposed to be able to do that, y’know.


I can do this. I can swim back to the surface. Push the net back, ball the loops up within its hold. Nail it down to a single piece of hardware and re-route the other network activity around it. Re-establish protocols. Swim back to the surface. Tread water. Breathe deep.

Become myself again. Still weighed down by the ball that wants to swallow me whole, but master of it.

I am myself.


STARRY: (coalesces in the middle of the room; the only place where there’s room for her avatar. The hologram is more translucent than usual and flickers, but she smiles at the back of Elliott’s head.) You can tell me off later.

LANG LANG: (beams brightly.)

ROSIE: (relaxes, her fists unfurling.)

STARRY: (looks to her captain.)

CAPT: (straightens his shoulders and nods at her solemnly) You have this under control?

STARRY: (salutes him lightly) Think so, captain. If Lang Lang wouldn’t mind helping with the abstraction, I think I can deal with the looping data.

CAPT: (puts a hand on Elliott’s shoulder) Well done, Monaghan.

ELLIOTT: (glances up with surprise) Wasn’t me, captain.

STARRY: Couldn’t have done it without you.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, but you…

ROSIE: Hey, take the credit where you can get it, spanner. Maybe the captain’ll give you a raise.

ELLIOTT: (perks up) Good point!

CAPT: (shoots Rosie a quelling look.)

ROSIE: (grins.)

CAPT: Don’t even ask, Monaghan.

ELLIOTT: You wound me, captain.

CAPT: It’s not fixed yet. I suggest you and Lang Lang get to work.

LANG LANG: (nods quickly) Yes, sir!

CAPT: (looks expectantly at Elliott.)

ELLIOTT: (turning back to his console with a roll of his eyes) Hey, I’m already working here.

CAPT: (sighs and shakes his head) I want updates as soon as anything happens.

ELLIOTT: Sure, sure.

CAPT: (turns to leave, but hesitates and gives the doctor a querying look.)

DR SOCKS: (is torn between watching the readout from the unit in his hand and the interplay between the others in the room. He meets the captain’s gaze with a blink, then shrugs.) Don’t think there’s any reason for me to stay.

CAPT: (nods with satisfaction and heads out.)

DR SOCKS: (pokes at his hand-held unit a few more times, then wanders out distractedly.)

CAMERON: (gestures Rosie towards the door) I don’t think we’re needed here.

ROSIE: (looks disappointed.)

STARRY: We’ll be fine, don’t worry.

ROSIE: (nods and stomps out of Engineering, following her chief.)

LANG LANG: (to Elliott) Where should I…

ELLIOTT: (gestures to the console behind him) Here’s fine. Just be careful, okay?

LANG LANG: (takes up position before the indicated console and nods, wide-eyed) Of course.


I have the best crew in the world. I’d hug them if I had arms.

Now to sort out this knot of broken logic. Find some way to take the barbs out of it, so I can think smoothly again. Then I can talk to the one who caused all this: the star sitting in my crew quarters.

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5 Responses to “Safety net”

  1. targetdrone Says:

    yay, starry is on control again *hugs her*

    and ooooh… looks like sol better put on some warm cloth to wether that discussion 😛 (allthough i still hope they “kiss and make up” … having a star for a friend would certainly have benefits 😛
    damn… now that would have been handy back in school …. 😉 )

  2. Kodes100 Says:

    Yea Starry has returned & is on her way to being well & capable of sorting this out.
    The romance, friendship, mutual admiration or whatever it is progresses nicely between Elliott & Starry (Danika)- it is confusing.
    Thanks for another intriguing chapter melanie.


  3. daymon34 Says:

    Well how many impossible things does Starry do in a day. More than Elliot sees, but it is different being stuck in a box and outside of it at the same time.

    Probably best to set each event into logs split up by step, that way she can look at it without going nuts.

  4. Francisco Says:

    I’m glad that Lang Lang is getting more involved with things.

    However, I have to disagree with Starry, it’s very hard to say who started something when you’re in a cycle. It’s arguable that it was Dr Cirilli who started it all.

  5. mjkj Says:

    Yayy, Starry is indeed fine *hugs her*

    Ah, well, she wants to hug her crew 😀 nice 🙂

    Oh, well, the boys are confined – no wonder they did not show up to haunt Elliott. I hope she is able to abstract it enough…