05 Jun

The final piece

Ship's log, 17:39, 30 June 2214
Location: Nowhere/everywhere
Status: Step drive active

 

Corporeal objects are not supposed to be outside the universe. The lack of substance here picks at me, trying to even the balance between us by spreading my atoms equally across this non-place. My surface blurs. I feel like I’m leaving a cloud of gold paint and metal particles behind me as I navigate the un-corridors of the outside.

I wonder what would happen to a non-corporeal object here. Would a soul be unmade too? But souls are infinite, so would it spread and spread, until all of the outside is touched by it, part of it? Is that what happened, once upon a time? Am I travelling through the corridors of an impossible soul stretched past the boundaries of the universe? Is our ‘real’ world a dream that soul once had?

 

Step portal engaged
Step complete
Inertial dampeners engaged

 

I don’t have the answers to those questions and I suspect I never shall. Today should be the last time I open a portal and Step outside. I have no wish to do any more harm. It is enough. Surely now, it is enough.

The Step is done; we are here, back in the world again. I am damaged and limping. Some of my crew are in the same state.

 

Location: Bridge

CAPTAIN: (bracing himself against his chair as the ship shivers) Starry, we’re not getting much in the way of useful readings here. Where are we?

STARRY: (voice only) Step complete, sir.

CAPT: But where did we Step to?

STARRY: Confirming navigational data. It’s taking a while, sorry. But we should be near the Cerces black hole.

ROSIE: You Stepped through a black hole? You can do that?

STARRY: Seems I can. It’s a gravity source. Scans confirm that this is the Cerces black hole.

CAPT: (smiles) And it didn’t hurt a living star. Good work, Starry.

STARRY: Found one with a station nearby. Observation platform… I’m not sure what it is. We might be able to get help there.

CAPT: Someone is studying the black hole? I didn’t know they still did that. What’s the station’s name?

STARRY: External comms are offline. It’s… External sensors aren’t picking up an ident yet. I’ll get to it.

CAPT: (nodding) Bring us into orbit, then. Chief, any contacts in this system we should worry about?

CAMERON: (doesn’t respond. Her head is tilted down enough that her face can’t be easily seen through the visor of her helmet. She doesn’t move or give any sign she has heard the captain.)

CAPT: Chief?

 

Why isn’t she responding? What happened to her – did I miss something? My internal sensors are patchy and I was distracted with the Step, but… my Chief?

 

CAPT: (frowns and unsnaps his safety harness so he can go over to his Chief of Security.)

STARRY: (appears beside him, looking worried. She’s back in her usual shipsuit, rather than the battle armour she was wearing earlier.) I’m still getting life signs for her. But they’re not…

CAPT: (tips Cameron’s helmet up) But they’re not what?

STARRY: (grimly) Good.

CAMERON: (is pale and her eyes are closed.)

ROSIE: (scrambles out of her harness to help) What’s wrong with her?

STARRY: (tilts her head thoughtfully) There was something when she fixed the data feeds… right side?

CAPT: (turns the unconscious Chief enough to see her right side) There’s a tear in her suit. And… (He touches the dark fabric; his glove comes away sticky.) Blood. Starry…

STARRY: Medical emergency, got it.

 

Location: Med Bay

STARRY: (voice only) Doctor, medical emergency on the Bridge. We need you.

DR SOCKS: (presses a diffuser to Lang Lang’s left thigh and he frowns at the readout on his hand-held monitor. He blinks at the distraction.) Got one here, too. How bad is it?

STARRY: Chief Cameron is unconscious. She has a wound on her right side. I can’t tell how bad it is yet.

DR SOCKS: All right, I need a minute to stabilise Lang Lang after that radiation bath you put us through.

STARRY: Okay. But… ah, crap.

DR SOCKS: But what?

STARRY: Nothing. Keep doing what you’re doing. I need to clear you a path to the Bridge.

DR SOCKS: It’s blocked off?

STARRY: There’s a lot of damage. Please be ready to move as soon as possible.

 

Location: Bridge

STARRY: Doctor’s going to be a while. I have to clear a path for him to get to you.

CAPT: (nods and unsnaps Cameron’s harness. He gestures for Rosie to help him.) Let’s get her on the floor. Laurence, emergency medical kit.

HALF-FACE: (waves his console away and gets up) Yes, sir. (He hesitates, looking around.)

STARRY: (points at a wall panel behind him. In the emergency lighting, it bears the green cross symbol for medical stations.)

HALF-FACE: (nods gratefully and rushes to fetch the kit from behind the panel.)

 

I have so few people left. Must I lose more of them in this? Isn’t it enough already?

I have to do what I can for them. The station will have personnel and medical facilities. They’ll be able to help us.

 

Location: Engineering

STARRY: (appearing near where her engineer is working) Elliott, I need external comms back online.

ELLIOTT: (lower half hanging out of an open wall panel, he’s busy wrangling with tangled feeds and torn lines. His voice is strained as it comes over his suit’s comms.) Yeah, and I need a beer, but we can’t all get what we want right now.

STARRY: There’s a station. We can dock, get help. But I can’t hail them.

ELLIOTT: (pushes himself upright enough to look over at the ship’s avatar) A station? Where the Judiciary can arrest us?

STARRY: I’m not picking up any Judiciary ships in this system. Or… any other ships, actually. We can’t keep running, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: (scowls at her through his helmet’s visor) Well, now that you’re not being shot at, maybe we can get you stabilised and start fixing this shit. We can cope.

STARRY: (quieter) Lang Lang and Cameron are injured.

ELLIOTT: (hesitates, then shrugs) Fine, fine. Whatever. I’m just gonna finish up routing your power so you don’t explode from crossed lines, and then I’ll take a look at the comms systems. That all right with you?

STARRY: (smiles) That’s great. Thank you.

ELLIOTT: (grumbles unintelligibly and turns back to his work.)

 

We have time to fix the comms before we get to the station. It’s positioned a good distance from the pull of the black hole and it’ll take me a little while to get to it. I might as well take the opportunity to cut the sublights on my wings, reduce the strain on them, particularly my damaged right one. The central sublight in my tail will be enough to get us there.

My internal damage has turned me into a ship with pockets of contained crew. My drones are doing what they can to help open my accesses back up again but I only have so many metal hands to put to use.

Big Ass and Waldo are busy trying to clear the corridors between Med Bay and the Bridge. The doc will have to use the emergency hatch underneath the Bridge to avoid the decompressed compartment where the first hull breach is. Hopefully he can get whatever equipment he needs through there.

A bulkhead has come down just outside Engineering too, which has cut Elliott off from the rest of me; whatever he needs to fix, he’ll have to do it from there for now. Casper is working on clearing the way but it’s going to take a while.

My environmentals are struggling against the pockets of pressure in me. The crewed parts of me are sealed and have atmosphere, but so many compartments have been vented or are torn open to the cold hands of space. Heat is hard to maintain; I bleed it out into the void. The only thing not struggling is the artificial gravity, which stays locked onto its usual constant pull. I feel like I’m fighting with myself just to stay in the right shape, as if all these forces are going to pull and warp me into something different.

It’s okay. I only need to keep it going until I can dock with the station. Then none of this will matter any more.

 

Location: Bridge

CAPT: (holding the medical scanner from the emergency kit over Cameron) She’s still fading.

HALF-FACE: (putting a spray can back into the kit) Emergency sealant is on the wound. She’s not losing any more blood.

CAPT: Radiation meds are helping, but not enough. She got a hell of a dose with that tear in her suit. Starry, ETA on the doctor?

STARRY: (standing aside) Still clearing damage to get him here. Ten, fifteen minutes maybe.

CAPT: Any word from the station? Can they help us?

STARRY: Comms are still down. Working on it.

CAPT: (sighs and gets to his feet) Anything we can do from this end?

STARRY: (looks at him helplessly) Just get her stabilised long enough for the doc to arrive.

CAPT: (nods and runs a hand through his hair, sweeping it back over his shoulder) Any other threats in this system we should know about?

STARRY: I’m not picking up any other ships in the system. The station doesn’t seem to be on alert; it’s not pointing anything offensive at us.

CAPT: Then we’re in the clear, for now. (He pauses and looks around at his crew.)

(The ship’s avatar is looking despondent and strained, standing off to the side. She’s gazing worriedly at her Chief. Rosie is kneeling by Cameron, scowling over the wound and spraying a patch over the tear in the injured woman’s suit. The Lieutenant is checking her over for any other injuries with a grim expression.)

CAPT: (pitched for the ship only) Starry, how are Valdimir and Monaghan holding up?

STARRY: Working hard, same as everyone here.

CAPT: Not quite what I meant. Can you give me shipwide?

STARRY: Hold on, routing power and internal comms. (She hesitates, then nods at him.)

 

CAPT: (shipwide, taking a deep breath) Everyone, we’ve done amazing work today.

(The SecOffs on the Bridge pause and look up at the captain. Elsewhere on the ship, hands hesitate in their tasks.)

CAPT: We have paid a heavy price: we have lost people close to us, and others are hurting yet. But let’s keep in mind what we have achieved over the past few hours.

We set out to destroy the Star Step project, we went up against one of the biggest companies in human history, and we have succeeded. Despite all of the odds against us, the forces that Isasimo Technology brought to bear on us, and their attempts to run away with another prototype, we have done what we set out to do.

Thanks to us, they will not be able to build another ship that damages stars. They will not be able to cause the damage we saw on Earth, and in Terra Sol. The universe is a safer place because of what we’ve done.

So thank you for all you have done and given today, I know we still have work to do. As my father used to say, we’re not out of the woods yet. Keep up what you’re doing, and we’ll make it through this. It has been an honour.

(He nods to the ship’s avatar and the shipwide channel is deactivated.)

 

He’s right. We did it. We picked every last bit of the project out of the company’s teeth while they snapped at us and they won’t be able to hurt any more stars. They won’t be able to threaten Earth again, damage systems, kill the suns that shine down on us.

Call us what they will, we did a good thing today.

And me, I’m finally free. Is-Tech aren’t my owners any more. I’ve cut all ties, severed every obligation and connection I have to them. They won’t accept me back into their fold and I don’t want them to. I’m free and there’s no going back now.

That speech is why John is my captain. He knew we needed to hear that, in the aftermath of all that fighting, and now my crew are turning to their work with renewed vigour. They’re steeling themselves against the hours of tasks ahead and pushing on, but they seem lighter. They know we won. We’re battered and barely functioning, but like Rosie likes to say: you should have seen the other guy.

Despite all that, I can’t say that my spirits are lightened by the captain’s words. I can’t take the same comfort that my crew has.

We’re not done yet. Our task isn’t complete. I don’t want to be the one to tell him that. I don’t.

Focus on the next step, idiot ship. Do what needs to be done. First, we need to get hold of this station. I’m trying to re-route my comms channels to alternative antennae because my main one isn’t working. Bit is slipping out onto my hull to see if he can fix up the connection for me.

But that feeling that I’m missing something has been nagging at me since the middle of the Step. It was in the swell of information that I had to sift through to navigate through the outside. That moment after the explosion. There’s something in that sensor data, something important. It pinged one of my processors, but there’s so much data that I hardly know where to start looking for it. My processing capabilities are badly reduced with all the damage and re-routed systems; I don’t have the capacity to look for it now. I have archived all the sensor logs for later. But it nags at me.

Too many things left undone.

 

CAPT: (looking at the ship’s avatar) Starry, how are you doing?

STARRY: (focusses her attention on him) Working on getting comms up so we can coordinate docking with the station. I should have something working by the time we reach orbit. Big Ass is almost done clearing the way for the doctor to get to the emergency Bridge hatch.

CAPT: I asked about you, Starry.

STARRY: It’s all me, captain. All of it. And I’m… in pieces. But I’ll get you there. I’ll get everyone to safety, I promise.

CAPT: (smiles wearily) I know you will. You’re the best ship a captain could ask for.

STARRY: (eyes widening, her voice thickens) Thank you, sir. I… we’ll be there soon, and everyone will be all right.

CAPT: Yes, we will.

 

The best ship a captain could ask for. I wish I could tell him what that means to me. There’s a lump in a throat I don’t have, tears in sensors blurred from too many impacts. I am a good ship, even after everything I’ve done. Even after I killed my own sister.

He’s still smiling at me, as if everything is all right now. It’s not all right.

He has forgotten something and that means that I’m going to have to do it myself. Our work isn’t finished yet. There’s one piece of the project left to destroy, to complete our work properly. A good ship would take this burden from her captain and crew, and I mean to be that ship, right to the end. Just as soon as they’re on that station and safe, I’ll make sure it’s done, and finished, for good.

Who better to end this work of ours and destroy the last piece of the project? Because that piece is me.

What do you think of this post?
  • Love it (1)
  • OMG (2)
  • Hilarious (0)
  • Awww (0)

12 Responses to “The final piece”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Awww…

    Poor Starry *hugs her*

    Well, I hope they do not let her go through with this. I believe Elliott will stay aboard — and she will not harm him…

    *looking forward to the next update*

    mjkj

  2. Francisco Says:

    The system is not on alert and the captain didn’t think there was anyone studying black holes any more? Something tells me that they’ve stepped into the past.

  3. Francisco Says:

    I just had a thought: Could the arrival of Starry in the system be another of the prompts for the project (just as them changing the sun’s magnetic field was a prompt for Cirilli)?

  4. eduardo Says:

    If they are in the past or the station is deserted they may get a time to think things over.
    In the end they can step if they use only black holes. This is something to consider.

  5. Kunama Says:

    Nooooooo
    (Where is the ‘Nooooooo’ reaction button)

    Somehow the idea that the ship doesn’t know where to find her own alerts is difficult to believe. Even while doing all those multiple things. Surely they’d be designed to be easy to find. She’s gotten more human-like as the story progresses, but that should not nullify the AI side.

  6. mjkj Says:

    I rather think that that station is abandoned because they do not monitor the black hole anymore than that they stepped back in time again — there was no need for that and Starry is too good for a misstep like that.

    mjkj

  7. Francisco Says:

    OTOH, half of Starry’s sensors are shot and “Teeth of Destiny” does end with Starry wondering if she’s missing something important. This entry hints that thing is that she has to be destroyed but it the last entry did say “in all the sensor data of the universe…” so there’s no guarantee that her calculations are right.

  8. Pete Says:

    Just found this story last week, rationed my reading so I wouldn’t get here too soon, but now I’m stuck waiting like everyone else. Great story, Melanie! You’re a good writer. And well on your way to being the best writer a reader could ask for.

  9. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – yeah, poor Starry needs hugs! You’re right; she won’t hurt Elliott to do what she needs to do.

    Francisco – I’m saying nothing. 😉

    eduardo – indeed!

    Kunama – I’m a little confused, Starry couldn’t find her own alerts? Which bit are you referring to? (I’m not sure if I’ve messed up or not!)

    Pete – hi and welcome! And wow, thank you so much for your comment. I’m flattered. 🙂 I do my best!

  10. Medic Says:

    mjkj is right. Elliot won’t leave. He’ll see it as his duty to stay and finish her repairs. That should be a nice argument between them.

    @Francisco – Not really. It’s almost as expensive to take a station apart than it is to build it. The company responsible for the station would have removed important bits like computers, rare-earth metals and the like. But the basic superstructure and hab area should still be operational. Besides, if it is abandoned, then that would make a good place to house Starry’s mind.

    @Mel – Only the star step hardware, software, and any data during a step would have to be destroyed. That would mean that some of it could be used to repair her. The filaments are removable, so I don’t foresee a problem there. Now Starry doesn’t have to do the “noble” thing and destroy herself. 🙂

  11. Kunama Says:

    @Mel
    “There’s something in that sensor data, something important. It pinged one of my processors, but there’s so much data that I don’t know where to start looking for it.”
    That bit. I get that the capacitors are full so she’ll have to look for it later, but not knowing where to start is weird. Could logic it away by saying she created the alert so might not have done it in a way that makes it easy for her to find later, but that’s a stupid human mistake, an AI wouldn’t err in that manner.

  12. Melanie Says:

    Medic – I know that, and you know that, but Starry can’t see that right now. 😉

    Kunama – ahhh, I see the bit you mean. That’s a reference to the amount of data she’d need to scan in order to find the specific item that piqued her interest. She’d know roughly the sector to look at but she’s mostly referring to the sheer size of the job she has to do to find the thing she’s looking for. It’s an exaggeration: more accurately, she hardly knows where to start. (I’ll update the wording.) Thanks!