02 Feb

Stripped

Ship's log, 15:13, 8 December 2213
Location: Intersystem between the JOP and Corvus FTL Corridor
Status: Sublight transit, half speed

 

We’re almost to the FTL corridor. I’m tucked in the middle of our little fleet: a single, small sheep between three over-zealous sheepdogs. I’m limping along with both wing engines disabled and several thrusters offline. The repairs on my starboard sublight engine are now almost complete, but it’s been a long slog to get this far.

The pirates are itching at our pace. We crawled away from the comet’s tail and they tried to put tow-clamps on me. I had to explain to them just how much damage they would do with those kinds of clamps on my skin. The Star Step filaments are embedded into my hull all the way down my length, nose to tail. If they’re broken, I won’t be able to Step. I already had several filaments broken by the chase; the clamps would have taken out half of the still-functioning ones. We don’t have enough parts to repair that many.

Next, they offered to use a noose created by the IDs around me, basically a kind of gravity net to drag me along. I told them it was a bad idea, considering that my drones needed to be outside for the repairs and the net would smoosh them against my hull in all the wrong ways. They can either have me fast or fixed, but not both.

In the end, they used the net to slingshot me away from the debris field and then turned it off so we could conduct repairs. It’s not quick, but we’re moving.

We had to take parts from all three pirate ships: the Mandible, the Bountiful and the other cruiser, Mercy. The parts all had to be reconfigured and adapted by Elliott before they could be fitted onto me. He spent a lot of time in his workshop machining parts by hand – it was quicker, he claimed, because he knew they’d be right. If he let anyone else do it, he’d have to triple-check everything, because other engineers are morons.

He hates the idea of any other engineers messing with me and my systems, and I’m with him in that. After the Tripi incident, I don’t want any other hands on me either. Luckily, Cirilli and Wong have been equally vocal about not having ignorant engineers messing around near their drive. The Lieutenant finally gave up and advised the Bountiful’s captain to let Elliott complete the repairs with the drones’ help. They figured out that extra hands wouldn’t get the critical work done any quicker anyway. It seems to be working so far.

The first thing they did was turn the gash down my side into a huge scar. Messy emergency welds maintained hull integrity while the big stuff got dealt with. Big Ass and Wide Load peeled the long strip of engine off the rear edge of my starboard wing and brought it inside to be fixed. While Elliott was busy with that, my big boys unfolded the dent in the wing and put everything back to how it should be.They took the engine back outside a few days ago to reattach it to its mountings. I’m still testing it to make sure that nothing is loose or going to give way once I pile the power through it.

Elliott kept grumbling that it needed to be replaced not repaired, but who knows when we’ll get to a port with a new engine of the correct type? We could wait months for a new one.

Of course, we could go to the source: direct to Is-Tech’s main ship factory at Feras. But that’s not going to happen now that I belong to the pirates. Is-Tech will have to fight to get me back first.

It feels strange to be coasting along so casually. There’s tension on my decks and three well-armed ships pacing me, but the urgency seems to have faded.

It’s given us all some breathing space. For once, I feel like I’m not hurtling towards the next disaster. I’m taking stock and repairing all my broken parts. All the physical ones, anyway. The drones are out there right now, removing the emergency seals and weaving my hull back together.

After the heat-reflective paint is reapplied over the damage, there will hardly be scars any more.

I won’t look the same, though. Not the same as before. There was one thing that we couldn’t stop them from doing.

Between all the repairs and fending off tethers and nets, a couple of quiet men came over in a shuttle. They were suited up already and didn’t bother to disconnect their helmets; they marched from my main airlock straight for the nearest emergency hatch and climbed out onto my hull. A quick clunk-clunk of mag-boots down to my tail and they went about lasering off my serial number. Not a single word to anyone. It took me several moments to realise what they were doing.

When they were done with that, they moved on to where my name is etched on my side, just above my wing. That’s when I started shouting.

Elliott was halfway into his suit before the mercs got to him.

 

Recording: 20:43, 10 November, 2213

ELLIOTT: (struggles as the mercs grab hold of him, the jacket of his EVA suit hanging limply around his waist) Get your fucking hands off me!

MERC 1: You’re staying here.

STARRY: Let him go! You have no right to do this!

MERC 2: You belong to us. We can do whatever the hell we like.

ELLIOTT: (wriggles harder) Leave her alone!

That’s when I started wriggling, too. Just a couple of sharp little spins, enough to yank the two men on my hull about by their feet. I think I dislocated a knee on one of them – that’s one of the dangers of using mag-boots on the outside of a ship. Especially when the ship hugs her ID field in so tight that they’re not included in its protection.

I was screaming at them through their ship-suit comms. I don’t know if they could hear me; I’m sure they must have turned off their reception. But I couldn’t stop.

I can’t even say why it upset me so much. It seems silly now that I think about it. But it’s my name, it’s who I am now. I have fought with this for so long – ever since I was booted up – but I’ve made peace with it. I know who I am. Why should I change it just because I’ve changed ownership?

But it’s just a name. It’s not even the name that I prefer my crew to call me by.

If I could, I would have curled up in the corner with my head in my hands. Then, in the middle of my freakout, they went and made it worse.

 

Recording: 20:52, 10 November 2213

HALF-FACE: (arriving in Engineering, where the pirates are still fighting to contain Elliott) That’s enough – stop this, right now! (He’s looking at the engineer, not his own men.)

ELLIOTT: (red-faced with the effort and huffing as he tires, but he still manages to glare at the Lieutenant) You can’t do this to her. What the fuck is wrong with you?

HALF-FACE: (pulls up the hologram interface on his left forearm and flips a fingertip at a red circle of light.)

ELLIOTT: (goes rigid when his control collar lights up. The mercs release him and he crumples to the deck, jaw tensed too tightly to scream. It lasts for a couple of seconds, then the collar goes dark. He slumps, grasping at the thing around his neck and struggling for breath.)

STARRY: Stop it! You can’t do this!

HALF-FACE: I think you’ll find I can. (He draws his weapon and aims it at Elliott’s head.)

ELLIOTT: (glares up at the barrel pointing at him) Bastard.

STARRY: (alarmed rather than angry) What are you doing?

HALF-FACE: (lifts his head to address the ship without moving his gaze or aim from Elliott) Stop interfering in my men’s work. Now.

STARRY: (coalesces in front of the console nearest to them. The process is much faster than the first time, taking only a couple of seconds to pull her Danika-like form together.) Leave him alone! Deal with me.

HALF-FACE: (with a twitch in the corner of his mouth) I am dealing with you. (He shifts his finger on the trigger.)

STARRY: All right! I’ll let them do it. All right.

HALF-FACE: Good girl. (He waits and listens to the reports on his personal comms implant. Starry’s avatar hovers nervously nearby. After a few minutes, he nods and lowers his weapon to his side.)

ELLIOTT: (sags.)

STARRY: (distraught) Is this how you settle all your disputes?

HALF-FACE: (shrugs) Pretty much.

STARRY: (looks at Elliott for a long, torn moment, flickers, and then disappears.)

ELLIOTT: (glares up at the Lieutenant) Real smooth, asshole. Who’s fucking brilliant idea was this?

HALF-FACE: (eyes the engineer with surprise) It’s standard procedure.

ELLIOTT: (pushes himself up to his feet) She’s not a standard ship! You can’t just swan about here as if– (He stops and shakes his head sharply. One hand tugs at the collar as if trying to make it sit more comfortably.) Shit. You didn’t even warn her, did you?

HALF-FACE: Why would I need to do that?

ELLIOTT: (waving an arm around) Because there’s a person in there! And you just took away her name. Anyone would freak out in her position.

HALF-FACE: A person? What the hell kind of ship is this?

ELLIOTT: The kind you should explain shit to before you go ahead and do it. (He eyes the pirates around him.) Now can you get the fuck out of my Engineering Bay?

HALF-FACE: Just make sure you don’t get in our way again.

ELLIOTT: (glares.)

HALF-FACE: (gestures to his men and all three of them leave the room.)

ELLIOTT: (slumps against the counter behind him, hands gripping its edge. He lets out a long breath.)

STARRY: (quietly) I’m so sorry, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: (frowns) What for? Don’t be stupid; that was all them, not you.

STARRY: I know, but–

ELLIOTT: (pushes off from the counter) Come on, we’ve got work to do.

So that’s it. I let them rub the name from my hull. They haven’t given me a new one yet. I don’t know what it will be.

But I couldn’t let them kill Elliott. It’s just a name. It wasn’t worth hurting him. I can’t believe they hurt him.

I lost something else in that confrontation, something important, but what it is slips away from me. Like so much else right now, it’s bigger than I can grasp. I flounder and I can’t make this work.

It feels like I lose a bit more ground in every confrontation with these pirates. The more my repairs are completed, the less whole and hale I am. Being broken felt more honest than this, even though saying that goes against everything my programming tells me I should be.

I am made whole but not new; there are scars under my paint. I think some of them have been there for a long time.

Why are things always more complicated than they look?

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5 Responses to “Stripped”

  1. daymon34 Says:

    Bummer poor Starry had her name taken away. And probably will not have a say on what the new name will be.

  2. mjkj Says:

    I hope she can get some of her boys out and paint on her new name: “Starry” 🙂

    mjkj

  3. mjkj Says:

    I really love your story 😀 I found it over at TWF as I was looking for something to read and it sounded interesting (even though it had but one vote) – I immediately got hooked but it was straining not to able to comment…

    *looking forward to the next update*

    mjkj

    .

    PS: Is there a possibility to register and log in?

  4. Melanie Says:

    Daymon – so true!

    mjkj – glad you found your way here! I’m happy you like it. 🙂 Next update should be up tonight, all things going well (I’m running a bit behind this week).

    I’ve approved your comments, so you should be able to comment away now. No further approval required!

  5. mjkj Says:

    Thank you, Melanie. I am glad, too, that I had found your story. I really like it. And thank you for the warm welcome 🙂

    mjkj