10 Aug

The death of ships

Ship's log, 16:29, 14 February 2214
Location: Junkpile, Lambda 1 system
Status: Stationary

 

I’ve decided that I don’t like sitting in this junkpile. I am hemmed in on every side by symbols of what I might become. It’s like looking at my future through a lens of the past.

This place is a motley collection of ruined machines. There are some small units: robots, drones, broken factory assembly rigs. They pepper the gaps between the larger chunks of debris, bouncing off into energetic vectors.

Most of this place’s population is ships, though; some whole, some partial. They’re all shapes and sizes: cargo-pulling rigs, battle platforms, fighters, scouts, couriers, shuttles. Most of the history of inter-system travel is drifting past me, indiscriminate in their meanderings. Sleek and clunky. Expensive and economical. Barely out of the shipyards and repaired so many times that the original hull can barely be seen under all the repair welds.

Some of the configurations are over a hundred and fifty years old; they must have been refitted with FTL engines at some point, to make it all the way out here. Someone must have loved them, to keep them going for so long. It seems sad that they made it so far from home only to end up here alone, forgotten under the baleful stare of a hungry double star.

Warships that have been blown into bits drift past me, disjointed and limp. The remains from distant battlefields have been scooped up and dumped here, the stories of their demise left far behind. I can see the scars of impacts and explosions, and sometimes even the stains of spilt blood. These ships tried, but they failed their crews and broke themselves in the process.

Not all of these vessels died in battle. Some of them don’t seem damaged at all; they just drift here, powerless, as if they’re sleeping. They look like they might fire up their engines at any moment, turn their noses for empty space and burn their way out of here. But deeper scans reveal a darker truth: these are not whole ships. They are hollow, missing vital parts, and couldn’t start up again if they tried.

Perhaps they died of old age, wore down until they could be fixed any more. Or was it simply not worth the effort and expense to repair them? At what point is a ship truly beyond fixing?

Some of these ships only exist here in pieces: a burned-out engine casing; a front section with ends of decks sheared off; a hangar bay with a launch strip leading to nowhere. Most of the time, I can extrapolate what the rest of the ship looks like from clues in the structure and my files on standard configurations. Sometimes, though, there isn’t enough to know. Not even a serial number to make an ID. They’re graves for unknown soldiers.

Their rest here isn’t peaceful: they bump and scrape off each other, and shed shards into the void. Sometimes they spin out far enough to be caught in Lambda 1’s gravity, senseless to the danger. The star snags and reels them in, devouring them in tiny flares of evaporating metals.

In the early hours of this morning, my sensors picked up movement in a far sector of the junkpile. It took several minutes for me to interpret the actions, between the clutter and the lack of comms traffic. Automated drones were picking over the wreckage, nudging outlying pieces back into formation and plucking out choice bits that might have some salvage value. Somewhere outside the pile, a ship must have been waiting to pick up the scraps they found.

I didn’t wait around to see it. Cameron is pushing for more and more caution, so after I had identified the sensor contacts, I looked for a deeper hiding place. Feeling dirty and muttering apologies to myself, I found an empty cargo hold and reversed inside.

It must have been part of a huge cargo ship from back before pods were in common usage, when all the shipments were held inside the ship itself. Massive, majestic beasts they were, fat and pregnant with the payloads they hauled between colonies. Now, cargo ships are just engines with crew quarters. They hook up to clusters of standard cargo pods, like landside freight train engines that drag a tail of compartments between ports. They really don’t make ’em like this any more.

There’s more than enough room for me in here. I settled down on what was the hold’s ‘floor’, mag-clamping myself into position, and there’s easily enough room for six more of me in here. And this is only a little over half of the whole hold. I wonder how many holds like this the ship had altogether, how big she was. She must have been impressive. Now, I’m crouching in her eviscerated belly, hoping her flayed skin will hide me from everyone.

It doesn’t seem fair. I don’t like it here.

To see past the clutter of the junkpile, Elliott helped me to resurrect the Beholder. The sensory ball was sent out on his tether a few hours ago, steered carefully through the morass and settled into a position on the edge of the debris. I have to adjust his position every now and then to avoid his line getting tangled, but better a hard connection than a data transmission that might be picked up by someone else.

His mass of sensors is feeding me plenty of data of the movements in the system. Feras ‘fixed’ the problem with ident recognition twelve hours ago and shuffled the system traffic back into a more regular order. No message was sent to me, though. I feel like the kid sitting on the bench, watching everyone else play ball.

There’s nothing wrong with my ident. Elliott and I have run all the diagnostics that we can; it’s clean. I’m running more glitch-free than I ever have.

We’re all convinced that there was no error. Feras flight control panicked when they saw me: they made up the whole ident issue to cover my arrival and hid me in the confusion. We couldn’t imagine why, not until an hour ago when the first clue sidled into sensor range.

At first, I thought it was a scavenger ship. I couldn’t detect any drones on the junkpile near the Beholder or my position, but this ship was too small to be collecting parts. It’s courier class: very small, built for speed over everything else, to carry small items between parties as quickly as possible. Usually, they carry mail and other encoded information packets, and they only support a handful of crew at most. This one was nudging its way into the junkpile.

It was a little while before we picked up its transmissions. Short-range bursts that basically said ‘hello?’, they were intended to draw someone out into the open. Say, someone that was hiding in the wreckage. Encoded into the burst was an Is-Tech ident coupled with a command protocol, to let me know that they were from the company that built me. So I’d come out and answer them.

It took Cameron a couple of minutes to agree to answer them. The courier – the Telltale Heart – was closing on our position and bound to pick us up before long, whether we answered or not. Better to pre-empt their discovery and take a proactive hand in the exchange, she said.

 

Recording: 15:34, 14 February 2214

STARWALKER: (over short-range external comms) Telltale Heart, transmission received. Please state your purpose.

TELLTALE HEART: Is this the Starwalker?

STARWALKER: Yes. Were you looking for me?

TELLTALE: We have a message for you from Isasimo Technologies executives. What’s your position?

The executives themselves sent a message for me. I probably should have felt special, but the idea wasn’t comforting; I wasn’t sure if it was the kind of attention I wanted.

I sent them directions to my coordinates. The little ship came around hovered in front of me, so small that I felt fat and clumsy next to it.

Once she was in position, the Telltale Heart opened up the comms again.

 

Recording: 15:47, 14 February 2214

TELLTALE: Starwalker, the Is-Tech executive board would like a full report on the experiment and a reason for your presence here. Your orders were to report to the Jumping-Off Platform when the testing was complete.

STARWALKER: Our presence at the JOP was compromised, and our testing isn’t complete.

TELLTALE: Then why are you here?

STARWALKER: I was captured by pirates and forced to fight free again. I have medical emergencies and prisoners on board. I also need–

TELLTALE: You brought pirates here?

STARWALKER: As prisoners, yes. And medical emergencies. Why can’t I dock at Feras?

TELLTALE: Your presence is… troublesome, right now. You must not be spotted in this system.

STARWALKER: Why not? What happened?

TELLTALE: The company heard about what happened at the JOP.

STARWALKER: So why is it a surprise that I’m here? You know I can’t go there.

TELLTALE: We’re just asking what we’ve been told to. You’re not safe to have around. Your orders are to stay out of sensor range of any ships other than this one, and to leave this system as soon as possible.

STARWALKER: But I need help! My captain is–

TELLTALE: Wait, is this the ship’s AI speaking?

STARWALKER: Yes. Because my captain is one of those medical emergencies I keep telling you about. My medic is in stasis with catastrophic injuries. I need help! And I’m not leaving until I get it.

TELLTALE: Acknowledged, Starwalker. Send us your reports, and we’ll see what we can do for you.

STARWALKER: Transmitting reports.

TELLTALE: Received.

STARWALKER: Wait, where are you going?

TELLTALE: To report back to Feras.

STARWALKER: What about my aid!

TELLTALE: We don’t have anything on board that can help you. We’ll return soon with word, Starwalker.

STARWALKER: And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?

TELLTALE: Hold your position and stay out of sight.

The Beholder tracked the little ship all the way down to Feras’s surface before he lost track of it. We haven’t heard a peep since, but they promised to be back soon.

How long is ‘soon’? It doesn’t compute into anything other than ‘not soon enough’.

I should go beat down the door and demand to talk to someone. It’s very tempting, orders or no orders. I know that there might be trouble over what happened at the JOP – Tripi could have told the Judiciary about the experiment, or made something up to get us in trouble. But surely they could hide a short stay? Right? Just long enough to offload prisoners and patients. That would be enough.

 

ROSIE: (over internal comms from her quarters, where she’s keeping watch on the sensor feeds) Hey, Chief. Check out sector 2a.

CAMERON: (seated at her desk in her quarters, she switches her central display with a deft motion of her hand and leans forward to frown at it) …damn. Starry, are you running silent?

STARRY: It’s space; I can’t make noise.

CAMERON: You know what I mean.

STARRY: Emissions are reduced as much as I can without disabling any systems. Engines are powered down. We’re hiding in the corpse of a ship. Why?

CAMERON: (taps the holographic display of the ships near the colony) She’s why.

 

The planet is turning slowly and a ship docked against its side is just coming into view. Even with the Beholder out, I’m still relying on the relay from the comms buoy to see around Feras’s sun-scoop; the data is scratchy but enough to make out a few telling details. I can’t tell what armaments it might have but its size is intimidating; it’s easily a match for the Davey Jones, though not as new. And unlike most of the ships connected directly with the planet’s surface, it isn’t obscured by mobile workshops for repairs; it’s just docked. Someone didn’t want to shuttle down to the planet.

I’m struggling to get a name. The system is a mass of shifting idents as the traffic flows to and from and around the colony, and that buoy is too stupid to have any real tracking capabilities. But I can tell that the hull is painted dark, making it a warship of some kind, and light refracted off the planet’s surface gives me a few clues. I can just make out the symbol on its side: a shield with a sword embossed on it, pointed down… uh oh. It’s a god-damned Judiciary ship.

Well, that explains a few things. Perfect, just perfect.

Perhaps I’ll stay right here with the dead ships, after all.

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15 Responses to “The death of ships”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Awww…

    poor Starry *hugs* – at least she knows now why she is in hiding…

    …I just hope she thinks of some pillaging the debris for usable material herself – send out the big ones to catch some resources or at least plain metals etc…

    I just hope the Judiciary will leave soon…

    mjkj

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    i have a feeling it could take a while if they get any help at all here in feras ;(

    and i am still not entirely convinced that even without the judiciary ship is-tech is willing to help instead of just disassembling starry 🙁

  3. Starwalker Says:

    mjkj – good idea! She might just do that, depending on how much she gets out of Is-Tech.

    Targetdrone – very true. Is-Tech are most likely weighing up her potential future value against how much trouble they’ll be in if she’s found. 😉

  4. mjkj Says:

    Oh….

    *blushes*

    Starry is answering personally now 😀 wow…

    Hello Starry *waves and hugs*

    mjkj

  5. Retsof Says:

    Nah, it can’t be Starry, Starry doesn’t talk in the third person. That would be an awesome bit of… erm… I lost my word here… Anyway, it would be cool if Starry started talking to us, though it would tend to break immersion a bit.

  6. Starwalker Says:

    I, er… hi! *waves* Uh, how did you get into my logs? I thought it was only me in here.

    …ELLIOTT, THE DUSTBUNNIES ARE TALKING TO ME.

  7. Melanie Says:

    This is what happens when I don’t take enough notice of what login I’m using… 😉

  8. mjkj Says:

    Hahahaha, great 🙂

    hehehehe, talking dustbunnies… 😀

    *waves back*

    mjkj

  9. Retsof Says:

    Huh, I think I’d make a pretty weird looking dustbunny. Anyway, don’t mind us, we’re just here to observe. But expect to get a lot of hugs, and I mean A LOT, these people are enthusiastic huggers.

  10. mjkj Says:

    Indeed 🙂

    *hugs Starry*

    mjkj

  11. Blik Says:

    I feel a little silly asking, but what’s wrong with the presence of the Judiciary ship? They checked Starwalker and found her clean, right? Is it the fact that they’re running unauthorized experiments that poke holes in the very fabric of Space-Time? Could someone refresh my memory?

  12. mjkj Says:

    Well, for one, they conduct illegal experiments, they have pirates on board that know of those, and they have applied to the pirates for asylum telling them about those.

    What we do not know is if the pirates sent this information on to their contractor (which I expect they did) and what they did with this information (inform the judiciary?).

    So if that word got out Starry is an illegal experiment it makes perfect sense to obscure her beacon and communication under a false flaw…

    …even to feign ignorance of the experiment – so, Starry’s arrival was about to mess that up.

    I believe poor Starry is in for quite a few not so nice surprises … maybe even to be hunted by IS-Tech later on when she has to flee FERAS Station…

    mjkj

  13. Starwalker Says:

    What’s that, Retsof? Huggers? But, but… I don’t even have arms, and… okay then. I’m pretty sure my hull is up to the challenge.

    *HUG*

    (*squish*)

  14. Melanie Says:

    Blik – what mjkj said is correct. More in the next post (coming soon!). 🙂

  15. mjkj Says:

    *grins*