Ship's log, 19:45, 28 June 2214 Location: Approaching Feras orbit, Lambda 1 system Status: Sublight transit
This system is thick with ships. I thought there were a lot the last time I was here, but that was nothing compared to this. The beacons are bleating constantly, trying to guide ships into the correct orbital parking zones so the colony’s Port Authority can coordinate dockings. The refugee ships are clogging up most of the area, but regular deliveries have their own dedicated zones. On Feras, brand new ships are rolling off the line and sailing serenely away from the morass, hulls gleaming and engines burning a bright, fresh blue-white. Empty refugee carriers limp away, less shiny but with a note of relief all the same. A Judiciary ship patrols around the outer reaches of the orbits, its steady gaze waiting for something to happen.
Cameron was pleased by the traffic in the system. She says it’ll help give us cover; they won’t be looking too closely at any one ship with so many to worry about. We’ll just be part of the group, unremarkable. My new ident will see to that.
Sure, I’ve still got the filaments threading over my hull, and anyone who looks out of a window at me might notice that it’s non-standard for a scout class. But who does that these days? And there’s no way they can tell what weapons I’ve got hiding under my skin, not without a deep scan and why would anyone bother? With so many ships and people to process?
I feel like a barracuda in a school of minnows, and no-one has noticed my teeth yet.
On the inside, I’m walking around with a secret, too. I keep expecting someone to look at me and know. It feels like it must be painted all over my avatar, but I guess it’s not as obvious as it seems it should be. Or maybe my crew is like everyone else in this system: too distracted by the business at hand to notice little old me. I can understand that and, if I’m honest, I’m relieved.
I’m still figuring out what last night means. What it should mean. What it could mean. Every time I think about it, I get all giddy inside and it takes a stern conscious effort to stop my avatar smiling.
Elliott. Twining with me in our dark little room, shut away from everyone and everything else. I have to keep checking my personal logs to make sure it really happened. But it did; it happened, we happened.
Recording: 0:15, 28 June 2214 Log location: Internal ship's systems, Node 1294-ZZ8 (shielded)
ELLIOTT: (lying on his back on the bed, he gazes up at the shadowy ceiling. One wrist rests on his forehead as he catches his breath.)
STARRY: (lies beside him, also looking up, one hand holding onto the dark burgundy sheet that covers them.)
ELLIOTT: (scrubs at his hair and turns his head to look at the girl next to him) You all right?
STARRY: (glances over and a smile spreads across her face) Yeah. You?
ELLIOTT: (with a shy smile) Yeah.
STARRY: (rolls onto her side and slides her arm across Elliott, snuggling into his side.)
ELLIOTT: (wraps an arm around her and rests his cheek against the top of her head.)
STARRY: (sighs softly and is content to rest there for a couple of minutes. When the silence stretches beyond that, she shifts so she can see his face.)
ELLIOTT: (has his eyes closed.)
STARRY: (gently) Elliott, you can’t sleep in here.
ELLIOTT: (without opening his eyes) I know. Shhh.
STARRY: (reaching up to touch his cheek) But…
ELLIOTT: (grumbles unintelligibly and hugs her tighter.)
STARRY: (whispering) All right. Just until you fall asleep.
I probably shouldn’t have let him do it. The unconscious requires delicate handling when jacked into an external system and sometimes the results are unpredictable. After what Tripi did to him, I’m surprised he would risk it, but he didn’t want to leave and I couldn’t bring myself to make him. So I stayed with him until he went all heavy and quiet, wrapped in our secret. When he was asleep, I let the walls down and carried him to the access point, and slid him back into his body as gently as I could. He barely murmured in his sleep and he slept six hours straight; the longest stretch he’s had for a while.
I don’t have the luxury of sleep or dreaming. Returned to my systems, I had scenarios to calculate and possibilities to predict. It was an effort not to put our data into the calculations to see what logic says about us. I don’t want to know. We’re not about logic; this part of me defies AI strictures. And I’m not ready to spoil it yet. I want to hold onto the bright, stolen time of ours and not think too much about what might come next for us.
I had enough time and wondering to get nervous, though. To wonder what perspective the morning might bring. The threshold of Lambda 1′s system was fast approaching, the binary star’s twinned light growing brighter in my sensors and bringing with it the morning I was starting to dread.
Recording: 07:35, 28 June 2214 Log location: Engineering
ELLIOTT: (wandering in from his quarters, he stretches into a fresh (if randomly stained) shipsuit, yawns, and shakes his head. Shower-wet hair flops onto his forehead.) Latest diagnostics? (A holographic display ripples into life above the counter to his left and he turns to frown at it.)
STARRY: (coalescing a pace to his right) Everything’s green. Nothing to report.
ELLIOTT: (fastening his shipsuit up halfway, he nods, still looking over the data. He reaches for his toolbelt and slings it around his hips, where it settles with familiarity.) Good, good. (He glances at the avatar and a smile tugs at his mouth.)
STARRY: (smiles back at him shyly) Hi.
STARRY: (jerks a thumb over her shoulder) Breakfast’s on its way.
(Behind her, the soft noise of Waldo’s tracks can be heard in the corridor leading to Engineering.)
ELLIOTT: Oh, good, thanks. I was just thinking I was kinda hungry.
STARRY: (shrugs) I’m a full-service ship.
ELLIOTT: (glances at her again, looking as if he’s about to say something. He changes his mind, though, and grins at the buckle of his toolbelt instead.)
STARRY: (smile kindling) Stop it. That’s not what I meant.
STARRY: I’ll make Waldo turn around and take your food away.
ELLIOTT: No you won’t.
STARRY: No. But you’d deserve it if I did.
STARRY: (sighs as Waldo trundles into the room behind her) The things I do to make sure you eat.
ELLIOTT: Oh, is that what it was, huh?
WALDO: (pauses when he reaches them, looking from ship to engineer and back again. He shakes his head and reaches past them to put down the tray of hot food: bacon, eggs, sausage, toast, and some reconstituted red beans that used to resemble ‘baked’, along with a glass of what might be loosely called orange juice. The tray clangs on the counter with just a little more force than is necessary. Then the drone turns and whisks himself away again.)
ELLIOTT: (glances at the drone, then rubs the back of his neck, grinning at Starry.)
STARRY: (smiles back, blushing, and disappears.)
Shortly after that, we passed into Lamba 1′s system and it was time to get down to serious business. We’ve been crossing the system all day, caught up in this stream of traffic. Taking our time so we don’t stand out. I’ve been ticking through the routine stuff as calmly as I can, trying not to betray any of the nerves that pluck at me. Will someone notice something off about me? Will the captain pick up on what happened last night? Will the Judiciary ship recognise me despite my shiny new ident? Will someone ask me a question I don’t know how to answer?
Secrets, so many secrets. But I have to keep them all, for all of our sakes. I can’t betray my purpose here until the last possible moment. We’re not even going to fix the star until the rest of it’s done, because that would only give away what I can do and who I really am.
I don’t want the crew to know about last night. Not yet. It’s ours: mine and Elliott’s. We’re still figuring this thing out. He’s very private and I’d like it to stay that way, too. I guess we’re alike that way.
Besides, it would be a distraction right now, and we don’t need any more of those. My crew needs to focus on the task at hand and so do I. It’s not going to happen again soon; we can’t afford to do it here. We had our chance and we took it.
I was afraid I might regret it. But I don’t. If it never happens again, I won’t regret it.
From my nose to my tailfins, my crew are working to make this plan of ours work. They have been at their posts all day, tensely watching the sensor feeds, waiting for an alarm to go up. The alarm hasn’t come. I slide innocuously into the queue for the delivery docks.
I know what I need to do now. Even if I fall with the rest of this project, I’ll know it was worth it. I’ll know I was loved, even if it was just for one night, and I’ll do my best to live up to it.
I have to be smart, sneaky, and strong. I have to protect my crew. I have to be the best ship that I can be.
External communications line
FERAS PORT AUTHORITY: Starwalker, you are cleared to dock. Please proceed to docking bay Alpha 62.
STARWALKER: Acknowledged, Port Authority. Proceeding.
STARRY: (standing on the right side of the captain’s chair) Captain, we are coming around to dock.
CAPTAIN: (sits up straighter and waves away the display hovering in front of him) Lorena, Lang Lang, Chief, are you ready?
CIRILLI: (rising from her seat on the Bridge) Yes. (She turns on her heel and strides off the Bridge.)
LANG LANG: (nods and hurries after Cirlli.)
CAMERON: (rises as well and watches the scientist go) Starry, how long have we got?
STARRY: Traffic’s pretty heavy and they had us parked some distance back. Half an hour to get in and docked, I think.
CAMERON: (nods and follows Cirilli’s footsteps.)
Half an hour until we’re docked. Then our secrets won’t matter any more.
I know what I need to do. I’ll fight and I’ll win, and I’ll keep them all safe. If a ship can feel love, she can do anything.