09 Nov

Teddy with a spanner

Chief Engineer's log, 08:50, 4 March 2214 
Location: Alpha Apodis system, Apus constellation 
Status: Sublight transit towards close orbit around Alpha Apodis Sol 
Log location: Neural link from Engineering immersion chair A to
internal ship systems, Circuit 249991-B16NM

 

(Elliott is on a grassy slope inside Starry’s head. He has raised himself onto one knee, preparing to rise, but a pause has made him look over his shoulder to the ship’s avatar. She’s sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest, watching him solemnly.)

 

I should just go and make sure her systems are all primed and glitch-free. Most useful thing I know how to do.

I should go do something practical. But I can’t leave her sitting like that. It’s not right or something.

All this because of a letter from Danika’s brother? Like one voice from beyond the grave isn’t enough on this ship.

 

ELLIOTT: (scrubs at the back of his head with one hand, twisting around to face the ship’s avatar again) So, um. You’re okay?

STARRY: (with widening eyes) I’m being more careful now. I promise, no more glitches. I won’t get distracted again.

ELLIOTT: Bullshit. And, not what I asked.

STARRY: Oh… I don’t know. No, I’m not. I guess.

ELLIOTT: (sighs and sits down properly again, closing the gap between them) You can’t just be glad he’s alive?

STARRY: I am! I guess. It’s just that… he’s not a variable that came up in any of my simulations of what we might do. And I don’t know what that means. Every time I think I’ve got my calculations down, the parameters change. I thought breaking away from Is-Tech would solve our problems, but now… now there’s this and I don’t know if I’m going the right way any more. What is it supposed to mean, Elliott?

ELLIOTT: (shrugs) It means life throws us curve-balls and you gotta deal with them. Recalculate and move on, same as the rest of us. (He scratches at his head absently.) So, uh. Is there anything I can do?

STARRY: (tilts her head) I don’t know. How did you deal with it when you had family you wanted to find, but couldn’t?

ELLIOTT: (frowns) Not really a problem I’ve had.

STARRY: Why not?

ELLIOTT: Not being able to find them was fine by me.

STARRY: (crestfallen) Oh.

ELLIOTT: You really want to find him?

STARRY: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: What are you hoping for with this? You know he’s not going to… you’re not the sister he sent that letter to.

STARRY: (gazing at her hands again) I know.

ELLIOTT: So what’s running ’round in that head of yours? In… here.

(He spreads his arms and looks around, in case there are any clues. Nothing pops up, though the tone of the lighting is changing subtly. Red and blue flow brighter beyond the tumble of grass as defensive protocols kick into a higher gear. The environmental system’s green threads beneath remain unchanged.)

STARRY: (throws her hands up) I don’t know! I’m confused!

(Her hands flop down onto the grass beside her boots, then she hugs her knees tightly again. Her fingers tangle tightly with the fabric of her shipsuit.)

STARRY: I know he won’t want to see me. But I want to see him. I want to know he’s okay. Danika wanted that – to know he’s all right. I think… I think it’d make her happy. I just want to know why he left, where he went. I want to know what happened. Put it to rest, maybe?

ELLIOTT: (watching her with a worried expression) Does the captain know about all this?

STARRY: No, he doesn’t. I want to tell him, but I don’t know if I should.

ELLIOTT: Why shouldn’t you…? (He trails off when the ship’s avatar tucks herself down into a tighter ball.)

STARRY: (ducks her face in against her knees, her shoulders rising defensively.)

ELLIOTT: Starry, what aren’t you telling me?

STARRY: (sighs after a moment and lifts her head, carefully not looking at Elliott.)

(She loosens an arm and makes a gesture in the air, calling up the data from the recording again. Time, date. Name. Another flick of her fingers brings up the details of the package that enveloped the recording. The date it was sealed, the date it was unsealed. The place it was picked up from and the place is was sent from.)

STARRY: There. (She points to the origin coordinates.) They point to this constellation, Elliott. He’s here, somewhere.

ELLIOTT: Danika’s brother is a fucking pirate?

STARRY: (hotly) We don’t know that! He could have been… there could be lots of reasons!

ELLIOTT: (stares at her.)

STARRY: (drops her gaze under the weight of his) See why I don’t want to mention it to the captain. I can’t ask anyone to go looking for him.

ELLIOTT: (sighs and shakes his head, still frowning) For an AI, you’re a fucking moron sometimes.

STARRY: (glances up hopefully) You know what I should do?

ELLIOTT: What? No. Well, yes. Tell the captain. Don’t ask him to go on some crazy pirate hunt if you don’t want, but tell him. He’s worried about you.

STARRY: He is?

ELLIOTT: Of course he is! He’s not the only one, either, y’know. (He falls defensively quiet.)

STARRY: (stares at him.)

ELLIOTT: (gives under the pressure of her attention, cheeks flushing) You think we haven’t noticed? How you haven’t been using your avatar? How erratic and emotional you’ve been, even for you? We’re all worried! We all miss seeing you.

STARRY: (sheepishly) I’m sorry.

ELLIOTT: (throws his hands up in the air) Don’t be sorry! Tell us what’s going on! (He waggles a hand at her vaguely.) Don’t just pace around inside your own head. Or sit here, curled up in a little ball. That’s what crazy people do.

STARRY: I’m not crazy.

ELLIOTT: Thank fuck, or we’d all be screwed.

STARRY: I wouldn’t hurt the crew. I wouldn’t. Not on purpose.

ELLIOTT: (hesitates and looks at her) I know that. Shit, I didn’t mean…

STARRY: (lowers her head.)

ELLIOTT: (to himself, quieter) Shit.

 

What the hell? The captain should be in here doing this, not me. He’d know exactly what to say. Instead, I’ve made her look like I just kicked her. That’s not what I meant!

Fuck. How do I fix this? Captain sent me in to figure out what’s going on, not make it worse.

Anyone else would be better than me right now. Even Rosie would be better at this touchy-feely-emotional crap. Okay, maybe not Rosie.

Is she crying? She’s a ship! She’s not supposed to be able to cry!

Maybe I should look at her logic processors.

 

ELLIOTT: (takes a breath, even though he doesn’t need to breathe in here, and reaches over to pat her shoulder awkwardly) Look, it’s okay. No-one’s angry with you. Everyone knows you’ve done your best for us.

STARRY: (glances at the hand touching her, surprised) But it hasn’t been good enough.

 

Oh, thank god: she’s not crying, not yet. Please don’t start. I have no idea what I’d do if she started that.

 

ELLIOTT: (pulls his hand back awkwardly) Sure it has. World ain’t perfect, Starry, and we wouldn’t swap you for a battleship in a shit-storm.

STARRY: (smiles faintly, though it escapes quickly) Thanks. It’s so hard to know if I’m doing the right thing. I can run thousands of simulations but they never give me the answer. Too many variables, too many permutations, and new factors come in all the time. I’m supposed to take my cue from cold, hard numbers, but…

ELLIOTT: (grins humourlessly) Welcome to being human.

STARRY: That’s not a huge comfort, y’know.

ELLIOTT: It’s not like you’ve gotta do all this on your own. Leave the hard stuff to the captain; that’s why he gets the big bucks.

STARRY: (sighs and nods. She falls quiet for a few seconds. Then she peeks at Elliott sideways.) So… the crew has really missed my avatar?

ELLIOTT: Yeah. What’s with you not using that?

STARRY: (shrugs) I didn’t feel like it.

ELLIOTT: Oh. And now?

STARRY: (to her toes) I dunno. Maybe.

ELLIOTT: (huffs and rolls his eyes) Trust me to get stuck with a girl ship.

STARRY: What?

ELLIOTT: Well, I did!

STARRY: (hmphs and turns her head away from him. He can just see the twitch in the corner of her lips.)

ELLIOTT: (leans sideways to bump shoulders with her) Come on. Might as well take a look at those Bridge interfaces while I’m here. If you’re done mooning.

STARRY: You’re so mean!

ELLIOTT: (getting to his feet) I’m an engineer; in my world, smacking things with a spanner fixes them.

STARRY: And you’re eloquent, too.

ELLIOTT: Screw you and your hundred-credit words. (He waggles a finger at her.) Don’t think I don’t know what it means.

STARRY: So are you going to smack me with a spanner?

ELLIOTT: (offering her a hand up) I would, but I left them in my other pants.

STARRY: (accepting his help to stand) It’s just like you to leave spare pants in my head. Please don’t make my brain look like Engineering.

ELLIOTT: (hesitates, then tries to draw his hand free subtly) Hey, I keep asking you to stop messing with my space, but you keep on sending the drones in to clean up. Goes two ways, y’know.

STARRY: (holding onto him) I don’t send them in! Waldo and Casper like to tidy things. And I think they see you as a challenge.

ELLIOTT: Sometimes, I think welding them to the decking is a challenge.

STARRY: That’s because you’re mean.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, yeah. (He starts off across the grass, heading towards a nexus of data feeds.) Come on, girly-ship. Sooner we get all this other shit sorted out, the sooner we’ll be able to find brother pirate guy.

STARRY: (perks up, following him) Yeah, you’re right. We… might already be on the right path for that.

ELLIOTT: See? Moron AI.

STARRY: Stop calling me names!

ELLIOTT: Did you think to talk to our pet cripple pirate yet?

STARRY: (brightens) No.

ELLIOTT: I rest my case.

STARRY: You’re still mean.

ELLIOTT: Just the way you like me.

 

Girls: I don’t get them. If you’re nice, they crumple up like you’re kicking them in the puppy. But if you insult them and poke them with a stick, they perk right up. It doesn’t make sense!

You’d think that an AI’s logic circuits would mean even something as special as Starry’s melded mind would at least make rational sense. But nope, she’s as loony as the next female. How’s a guy supposed to know how to handle that?

I guess my work here is done; at least, as far as the captain’s request goes. This should be enough to report back to him. Next time he definitely needs to come himself, dammit. A man with that much hair will definitely know how to handle a ship with surprise family issues. What would he tell her, I wonder? ‘Trust in the spirits’ guidance’ or some such airy shit. I’ll stick with smacking things with spanners, thanks.

At least she’s not moping any more. I should come in and poke her more often. With, er, insults.

And– now what?

 

STARRY: (stops abruptly, which forces Elliott to stop as well because she still has hold of his hand.)

ELLIOTT: (turns to look at her, eyebrows lifting.)

STARRY: (solemnly) Thanks, Elliott. For coming in to see me.

ELLIOTT: (flushing) Yeah, ‘course. What friends are for and all that shit.

STARRY: Yeah. Can… can I ask you something?

 

Uh oh.

 

ELLIOTT: Sure. What is it?

STARRY: I just… I want… it’s been a long time since I… well, I guess technically I’ve never… I mean…

ELLIOTT: (looks at her more closely with a trace of wariness) Starry, you’re babbling.

STARRY: (shifts her weight and rubs the back of her neck with her free hand, unconsciously echoing one of Elliott’s habitual gestures) Yeah. Okay.

(She huffs out a breath and meets Elliott’s gaze uncertainly.) Um. …can I have a hug?

ELLIOTT: (cheeks colouring) Oh. (He stares at her for a moment, then shakes his head.) Yeah, sure. As long as you don’t tell anyone.

STARRY: (with a solemn nod) I promise.

(It’s awkward at first, as neither seems sure what to do once they step within hugging range of each other. They’re all fumbles and false starts peppered with embarrassed glances. Starry finally gives up and dives in, throwing her arms around his neck. Elliott holds her gingerly, patting her shoulderblade. After a few seconds, they relax; she tucks her face into his neck and leans into him, and his eyes close. He hugs her in tightly.)

ELLIOTT: (after a while, quietly) You okay?

STARRY: (head still nestled in his neck, sniffling softly) Mmm-hmm.

ELLIOTT: (into her hair) It’s gonna be all right, y’know.

STARRY: (clinging to him more tightly) Yeah. Yeah, I know.

(They stay like that for another few long seconds. Finally, Starry lifts her head and shifts back, blinking rapidly. Her eyes are bright but she does look like she’s crying.)

STARRY: (smiling shyly) Thank you.

ELLIOTT: (studies her face, his hands resting on her waist. He looks stunned by the whole thing.) Hey, sure. No problem. Er, happy to oblige.

STARRY: (blushes. Before Elliott knows what’s happening, she pecks a kiss on his cheek and steps back, sliding out of his hands. Her fingers fall away from his shoulders.) Thanks.

ELLIOTT: (dropping his arms to his sides, as if not sure what else to do with them now) You said that already.

STARRY: Yeah. So, um, Bridge interfaces?

ELLIOTT: Yeah. Shall we?

STARRY: (beams at him) Sure. (She turns to lead the way.)

ELLIOTT: (follows her.)

 

Well. That was… different.

A ship that wants hugs. If I told someone about this, they’d never believe me.

I could feel her breath on my neck. These aren’t even our real bodies, and she doesn’t breathe in hers anyway, and yet her avatar does. And it was warm, just like her skin. At least I’ve got autonomic reflexes to blame for my avatar’s breathing, but her… That braincopy must be fully integrated now, and coherent enough to make her breathe.

I wonder if she has a pulse, too.

Goddamn captain, I bet he knew what she wanted. He had to be right, didn’t he?

Look at her, bouncing off like that was all she needed. If I’d started with the hug, could we have avoided the rest of this? One quick squeeze instead of all that tortured talking?

Silly girly ship.

Wouldn’t swap her for a battleship in a shit-storm.

 

Logging terminated.
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12 Responses to “Teddy with a spanner”

  1. Medic Says:

    Awww, and FINNALY! Sorry chickies, I’d have started insulting from the start. Elliot’s much nicer than I would’ve been.

    Side note: The CGI work I was doing is gone. Comp crashed and took everything. I’ll have to start over when I have the time. Sorry :/

  2. Melanie Says:

    I love Elliott, he’s so slow with people. πŸ˜‰ He’s trying to be nice because he likes her… it just doesn’t work well for him.

    Aw, sorry to hear about the CGI work! I hope you manage to resurrect it. And I hope your computer behaves itself next time! Bad computer, no biscuit.

  3. Belial666 Says:

    Said it months ago; with so advanced neural interfaces, dreamscape manipulation and cybernetic avatars there is no need for a physical relationship when you can have a perfectly funtional dream relationship.

  4. Retsof Says:

    I have one word to sum up this chapter: Dawwwwwwwww.
    Also, what CGI?

  5. Targetdrone Says:

    finally its confirmed…. This.Ship.Likes.Hugs.

    *gives starry a hug*

    only glad that finally elliott is catching up on that not so deeply hidden secret πŸ˜‰

  6. Melanie Says:

    Belial666 – true!

    Retsof – Medic was creating a CGI version of the Starwalker.
    I’ve also got an artist working on some concept art for the ship. Might be able to share something with you all soon. πŸ˜€

    Targetdrone – even the clueless catch on eventually! πŸ˜‰ It amuses me that Starry had to ask, but poor Elliott just ain’t built that way.

  7. mjkj Says:

    Wow, nice…

    *hugs and comforts Starry*

    It is true – even Starships need hugs…

    *hugs her again*

    (…and I believe their creators also…)

    *hugs Melanie* πŸ˜€

    mjkj

  8. Retsof Says:

    By the way, I forgot to mention how much I love the bits of humor and innuendo you slip in *snerk*. Poking, leaving pants behind, hehehe. Also, love the last sentence there, really brings home how much the crew loves her.

  9. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – so true! And aww, thanks, I’ll take them hugs too. πŸ˜‰ *hugs!*

    Retsof – thanks! I’m glad you like it. πŸ˜€ I love writing Elliott; I haven’t done humour this much before and it’s fun to play with.

    I almost didn’t add that last sentence and left it with Elliott calling her names, because that’s his way. But… I think you can hear him smiling in that last sentence (at least, I hope so!). I think he’s just realising that he means it, too, and didn’t just say it for her benefit (earlier).

  10. mjkj Says:

    Great πŸ˜€

    *more hugs for both of you*

    *hands Starry a plush teddy bear starship*

    mjkj

    .
    Hmm, … a plush Starry would be nice to have indeed…

  11. Melanie Says:

    I’m having some concept artwork done, and once I have something solid, I might look into plushy options. πŸ˜€ Who doesn’t want to hug a starship?

  12. mjkj Says:

    Indeed. πŸ˜€ *looking forward to that* πŸ˜€