10 Feb

Shell

Ship's log, 19:42, 22 December 2213
Location: Mouth of the Corvus FTL Corridor
Status: Sublight transit, half speed

 

Here we are – the Corvus FTL corridor. Somewhere in here, we’re going to take a left turn and end up… where we hadn’t originally planned. They won’t tell me. I guess they’ll start sending me jump coordinates soon, at least as far as the first junction of the corridor.

I wonder where they’re taking me. Straight to their clients? Back to Pirate Central where they keep the ale and strumpets? Will we stop for a chest of gold and a haunted ship on the way? Or maybe a monster from the deep will rise up and chase us.

Maybe the Judiciary will be that monster. Or ships from Is-Tech – I know they have other ships, even if I haven’t seen any yet. Even though they’re keeping their distance. Do they know I’m missing? Do they care? I’m supposed to be the last hope to save their flagging business; I’m supposed to be valuable to them. Where are they? Where is my protection?

When we discovered Levi’s betrayal, I was so busy stopping him from sending a distress buoy that I never thought to send one myself. Soon, we’ll be off course and they’ll never find me again.

I can’t pretend that that doesn’t scare me.

If they did show up – or the Judiciary, for that matter – would they know me? The pirates are working hard to change me. Pieces of me are slipping away, eroding the ship I thought I was. My name was just the first step.

After the name was burnt off my hull, the Lieutenant ordered Elliott to remove my ident. It’s a small, tough device wired into my central systems, built to withstand damage and tampering. It’s supposed to be an umimpeachable source of information to identify me. They’re unhackable: once the unit is sealed, the information it transmits is hardwired and can’t be changed. The only way to change an ident is to rip it out and replace it with someone else’s.

It’s not a pleasant process. There are failsafes and protocols in place to stop me working if I don’t have a valid ident installed. It’s a measure intended to battle pirates, but we all know that failsafes can be disabled. I’ve been doing it since I came into this world. But that didn’t make it feel right.

I don’t have human tactile sensors, but I swear I could feel them reach inside me and remove a part of me. Something important; something vital. It left behind a hollow that I couldn’t fill or ignore. I wanted to hunch over it. It felt like Danika did every time she thought about her brother after he disappeared. Like a part of her was missing, an empty ache and a hope that someday, it’ll be filled again. Put right. Put back the way it should be.

It took hours to complete the replacement – a lot of links to disengage and then connect up to the new unit. Elliott kept trying to talk to me but I couldn’t answer him. My systems were all shutting down, strangled by the lack of this small, hard thing, and every time he asked how I was doing, I felt an overwhelming urge to cry. Which is odd, as I don’t have eyes or tear ducts. I just sealed my lips and let him work. He would only have felt bad. It’s not like it was his fault.

I don’t know how the pirates got the ident they gave to Elliott to install. I didn’t want to ask, or think about a dead, nameless ship somewhere out in the void. I know that it’s from a scout-class ship, sister to the Mandible that rides up ahead of me. Her name was Carapace; now, that’s my name. While the ident was being nailed into my innards, they snuck a couple of men onto my skin and tattooed it across my sides. My scars are covered with a new shape.

They weren’t happy with that, though. I don’t match the original Carapace’s configuration: I’m the right size for a scout, but my wings and tail-fins aren’t standard for that class. I’m built for manoeuvrability far more than a regular scout, and for riding close to the coronas of stars.

So of course, they wanted to change that, too.

 

Recording: 13:52, 28 December 2213

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering, halfway through pulling on his EVA suit. He pauses with it bunched around his knees and squints up at Lieutenant Laurence’s face.) You want me to what?

HALF-FACE: Modify the wings and fins on the ship’s–

ELLIOTT: Yeah, I heard you. What I meant to ask was: are you nuts?

STARRY: (resolves before a nearby holographic display, her feet not quite touching the floor. She doesn’t seem to have noticed, too busy folding her arms and looking from one man to the other. Elliott is much shorter than the merc.)

HALF-FACE: It’s just external structure. Nothing important.

ELLIOTT: (yanks his suit up to his waist and throws up his hands, all in one gesture) I just got done repairing one of those wings! What is this, waste Elliott’s time day?

STARRY: Nothing important? They’re not decorations.

HALF-FACE: (glancing at the avatar) You don’t need–

STARRY: You don’t know what I need!

HALF-FACE: (sighs deeply and closes his flesh eye, as if he’s getting a headache. Or controlling himself. His prosthetic eye narrows to a tiny point.)

STARRY: (bitterly) You won’t believe me, so get my captain down here. Or Cirilli, she’ll do. Let them tell you what will happen during a Step if you cut my manoeuvrability.

ELLIOTT: (gives Starry an uncertain look, but rounds on the Lieutenant in concert with her) You do know that there’s propulsion on all those ‘external structures’, right?

HALF-FACE: (firmly) Why don’t you start with telling me what the problem is?

ELLIOTT: (takes a breath but pauses, glancing at Starry.)

STARRY: (seems uncertain, but steps towards the Lieutenant, her light prickling on the air) You want to take my wings off, shave my tail, and give me stupid mutant fins. It’ll move my thrusters so I’ll be ass-heavy and take four orbits to make a stupid turn.

HALF-FACE: The changes aren’t that drastic.

STARRY: I’m an experimental ship. I was built around this new drive – (she waves her hands around) – it wasn’t just strapped into any old shell they had lying about. My configuration has been designed for it. Do you know what happens when you’re outside the universe? It starts to unmake you; it unpeels your atoms. You don’t want to stay out there. so it’s not a good idea to make it harder to get where we’re going. Not even a little bit.

HALF-FACE: (frowns) None of the reports said it was that dangerous.

ELLIOTT: What, you thought tearing a hole in reality was safe?

STARRY: Check the logs. They’ll show you.

ELLIOTT: And shoot whoever supplied you with those reports.

HALF-FACE: (eyes the pair of them. By now, the ship and her engineer are standing in matching poses, feet planted squarely and arms crossed. He isn’t sure who is copying whom.) I’ll look into it.

ELLIOTT: We’ll be here. (He waves a hand at the Lieutenant.)

HALF-FACE: (snorts and strides out of Engineering.)

ELLIOTT: (slumps and runs a hand through his hair) Shit.

STARRY: (watches the mercenary leave with a solemn expression) He’ll be back. With another bright idea from his captain.

ELLIOTT: Hey, at least they changed their mind. And about repainting you – goddamn morons, trying to take heat protection off a star-hugger like you.

STARRY: (lets her head droop. She notices the gap between her feet and the deck, and drifts down to close it.) Why is it all such a battle? I’m always fighting the current. (She looks up at Elliott.) Should I stop? Should I just… give in to them?

ELLIOTT: Hell no! Are you nuts? They’d drive us into a star, and then we’d all be fucked. They don’t have the first clue about you, or the drive, or any of this.

STARRY: They don’t want to know, either.

ELLIOTT: (shrugs) So we’ll tell ’em. (He looks at her searchingly; she’s still looking at the toes of her boots, lifting them up and down and seeing how the light shifts against the solidity of her deck.) Hey, we’d all be screwed without you. You’re doing a good job, y’know.

STARRY: (glances up at him) We got caught.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, but we ain’t dead. And that wasn’t your fault. You gotta go easier on yourself.

STARRY: (looks down again.)

ELLIOTT: You wanna know a secret? C’mere. (He beckons her over to a counter tangled with components, wires, shards, tools, and other random bits of metal and plastic. He lifts a couple of pieces out of their apparently-random places and prises up a sheet of scorched hull-fragment.) Look under there.

STARRY: (steps over to the console by the counter. She looks at the lifted sheet, using her ship’s sensors to see what’s underneath it. A frown tugs.) Is that an ident cube?

ELLIOTT: (winking and putting the things back) Shhh. It’s more than that: it’s your ident cube.

STARRY: (blinks) But, how– they took it away.

ELLIOTT: (grinning) Fake. An empty shell.

STARRY: But they’ll know, and–

ELLIOTT: (shakes his head) Sealed box. Can’t open an ident cube, remember? Won’t figure it out unless they try to install it in a different ship. (He pats the pile of junk proudly.)

STARRY: (stares at him) You could get in trouble.

ELLIOTT: Ah, fuck ’em.

STARRY: (starts to smile.)

Elliott must have known they’d ask him to change my ident; he had to have prepared the fake in advance. If I go back through my logs, I’ll probably find him working away at it in the middle of the night, while the rest of the ship is asleep. He never gets enough rest.

Just when I think I’m sliding into a spear-laden pit, I realise that I still have my crew. They’re collared and corralled; they can’t help me as much as any of us would like, but they do what they can. Tyler distracts his guards the best way he knows how. Rosie beats them at cards. My captain discusses ethics and fate. Cameron makes observations about their deployment and tactics. Maletz keeps them whole and pain-free.

I feel like there are pieces moving into position, but I can’t see the whole board. I’m on it somewhere too, fumbling my way through the dark, with no idea if I’m heading in the right direction or not. I’m not sure what kind of piece I am – they keep trying to change me. I don’t know if I’ll know before it’s all too late to fix, but I can’t break free of this. My crew is collared and corralled; that binds me.

So I’ll keep trying not to let the mercenaries do anything too silly with me. I’ll wear this mask they’ve given me, and try not to disappear inside it. I’ve pretended before. I’ve just got to be tougher this time, that’s all.

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3 Responses to “Shell”

  1. Tweets that mention Starwalker » Shell -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Becka Sutton, Melanie Edmonds. Melanie Edmonds said: New #Starwalker post! The ship gets a new name, but that might not be all. http://www.starwalkerblog.com/shell/ http://fb.me/BXZFQayO […]

  2. mjkj Says:

    Awww…

    Poor Starry, she has it really hard…

    …I just hope they will get rid of the pirates and collars somehow (I wonder why Elliot does not have a disengaging (or at least effect-reducing) switch for them by now) 🙂

    mjkj

  3. daymon34 Says:

    Well no one said that the pirates were bright, just nasty. And yes losing some of the thrusters would be all bad, getting torn apart wouldn’t be fun at all.

    Alright Elliott is planning ahead for when they can break free.