17 Mar

The first

Ship's log, 14:50, 17 March 2213
Location: Corsica system
Status: Medium orbit around Corsica sol


Here I am, still drifting in circles. I suck up the heat and carry on, because that’s what I’m supposed to do. No-one asks if it burns.

They think I haven’t noticed. Those small slips, the words they don’t mean to say but do anyway. Breadcrumbs through their lies and ignorance. They’ve tried to keep something from me, but it’s coming out. It’s all tumbling out.

Again. Second. This time. Refit. These tiny things means little on their own, but put together they make a pattern. One I don’t like. I don’t have a stomach, nothing to vomit up, but somehow I feel sick anyway.

I’m not the first Starwalker. I have doubted it for so long, because everything was so new and clean when I woke up – even my data banks – but now I’m sure. My shakedown was not the ship’s first shakedown – it was testing me, not the ship. The Step I aborted was not the first attempt.

There was an AI before me. One without glitches and random code-spurts. One who didn’t send hot chocolate to an exhausted engineer, or try to make the captain smile, just once, to see if he can. One who didn’t contemplate turning the artificial gravity off while everyone was asleep, just to see what would happen.

Then something went wrong. Something to do with that first true Step that broke the AI. They had to shut her down and fly back to the JOP on their own. They had to wipe the AI core and start over. I was repaired, not freshly built: patched and polished, and started up as if I was a new thing.

I don’t know why they didn’t tell me. I want to ask, but I can’t tell them how much it bothers me; it’s not supposed to matter this much. Not to an AI. They lied; they all lied. And now they have me, an AI that doesn’t quite work right. One that asks questions she shouldn’t and takes an initiative that wasn’t built into her. One that has feelings and urges. If I was mean, I’d say they deserved it.

I think it might have happened here. Corsica, the site of the disaster. It’s the closest star to the JOP that doesn’t have regular traffic. If it was good enough for the first attempt, it was good enough for me, and clearly no-one blames the star for what happened.

I wasn’t the only thing replaced at the JOP. Before I was born, Elliott fitted a new pilot’s chair to the bridge. After, we were held up by the other new crewmember, who took the place of the other casualty. I remember the smell of roasting meat from my abortive Step, the scent burned into my synapses, though no-one was hurt that time. Elliott says it was probably a dustbunny in the wrong duct.

I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s a sign of what happened the first time, when the pilot was killed and the chair destroyed. Trapped in that awful chair, a fragile body took the brunt of a power surge and burned. All the way through.

They must have taken the body all the way to the JOP with them. All traces of it were gone before I woke up: of the pilot and the damage from that burning. There’s not even a struck-out listing in my crew manifest, as if it never happened. If there was an investigation into the accident – which there must have been, considering that it happened during the first Step – there’s no record of it in my data banks.

It’s all very frustrating. But today, I hope to get some answers. Elliott has finished his analysis of the device he found, and I’ve never seen his expression grimmer than this. He has been pacing back and forth in his Engineering sector, trying to piece together what to tell the captain. A couple of minutes ago, he grabbed up the device he found in the immersion chair’s feeds and marched up the length of me, to the captain’s cabin. He’s arriving now, demanding audience with a fist on the door. Sometimes, he’s very old-school.


CAPTAIN: (from inside his cabin) One moment, Monaghan.

ELLIOTT: (in the corridor) It’s important!

CAPT: All right, you can come in now.

ELLIOTT: (dives inside as soon as the door is open enough to slip through, then pulls himself up short. He gives Cirilli a surprised stare, then looks to the captain. The door slides closed behind him.) What’s she doing here? (Realising the obvious, he adds,) I was hoping to talk to you in private.

CAPT: Is this about what you found on the Bridge?

ELLIOTT: Um, yes.

CAPT: Then she should hear it, too. (He sits at his desk.) What did you find?

ELLIOTT: (eyeing Cirilli uncertainly) Are you sure about this?

CAPT: Yes, I am.

ELLIOTT: (sighing) All right. (He looks at the captain, subtly ignoring the scientist.) I was right – it’s a type of power modulator. It’s made to monitor the feeds to the chair, and filters the flow down to barely working. The excess is siphoned off and stored, and when the system tries to compensate and increase the flow, it lets the charge all go through at once.

CAPT: Enough to kill a person?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, definitely.

CIRILLI: (leaning forward in her chair) If this is what killed the first pilot, why wasn’t it found when we investigated the accident?

CAPT: (glances away from the scientist.)

ELLIOTT: (scowling at Cirilli) Because as I explained when I found it, it was hidden inside the cable. I had to take the actual cable apart to find it. And, for the record, I don’t think we can call it an accident any more.

CIRILLI: (seeming surprised) Sabotage?

ELLIOTT: Well, what else would you call it? Someone put this in there to fuck up your experiment and kill people. And lemme tell you – it was a professional job. This is a sophisticated piece of tech and it’d take an experienced engineer to fit it – especially to make it so hard to find.

CIRILLI: An experienced engineer. Like you, perhaps?

ELLIOTT: Hey, fuck you, lady.

CAPT: (holding up a hand to make them stop) Is there any evidence indicating who put it there?

ELLIOTT: (shrugs) Not that I could find. No serial numbers, nothing traceable on it. No forensic traces that the sensors could pick up.

CAPT: So there’s no way to know if it was put there before or after we left the JOP?

ELLIOTT: (looking uncomfortable) Uh, actually, there is.

CAPT: (when the engineer hesitates) …what is it?

ELLIOTT: It’s pretty sophisticated, but it’s not that smart. I mean, not enough to tell the difference between a Step and regular travel. We did a lot of testing with the chair before that first Step.

CAPT: (sitting up a little straighter) So it had to be set off by someone on board?


CAPT: Shit.

CIRILLI: That doesn’t mean that whoever installed it is on board. It could have been put in place before we left the JOP?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, maybe. I dunno – we don’t have access to those records, remember? All locked away, just like you wanted. (A wave of his hand includes both the captain and Dr Cirilli.) But it still means we’ve got a fucking saboteur on board.

CAPT: With a transmitter?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, have to be, to set it off at the right time. Could be built into anything, though. Even an implant. Or hooked up to the Star Step equipment. That could be used to control the timing.

CIRILLI: That’s impossible. Mid-deck has been locked to everyone except my staff since this ship was built.

ELLIOTT: (grinning) Yeah, that’s true. Doesn’t look good for your team, does it?

CIRILLI: How dare you–

CAPT: (holding up a hand again) That’s enough, both of you. There’s no point throwing around accusations until we know more. Monaghan, I need you to go through all the sensor logs surrounding the Step attempts and see if you can isolate that transmission. Cirilli, you should do a survey of your equipment, just in case. This transmitter might not be our only problem.

CIRILLI: (nods and sits back, folding her arms over her chest.)

ELLIOTT: Sure, whatever. (He pauses, then frowns.) Wait, both Steps? But like I just said, the records of the first one are locked.

CAPT: Use an offline unit.

ELLIOTT: Wouldn’t it be better to–

CAPT: No. Also, the two of you are not to talk about this to anyone. Until we know more about what’s going on, I don’t want word of this to spread around the ship. Random accusations help no-one except to let whoever is responsible for this know we’re looking for them.

ELLIOTT: They already know I found their killswitch.

CAPT: (suppressing a wince) But not that you’ve identified it. If anyone asks, say that it was too badly damaged to get anything from.

ELLIOTT: You want me to lie.

CAPT: (coldly) This person has killed one of us already, Monaghan, and almost made it two. Do you want to paint a target over your head?

ELLIOTT: (blinks) Oh. Right. I see what you mean.

CAPT: Good.

ELLIOTT: I’ll, uh. Get to looking for that transmission, then.

CAPT: (nods.)

ELLIOTT: (makes a swift exit from the captain’s cabin and retreats to Engineering, scrubbing the back of his neck with a hand.)

CIRILLI: (as the door closes behind the engineer) Was all of that strictly necessary?

CAPT: (suppressing a sigh) You know it was, Lorena…


I don’t think I need to listen to any more of that. She’ll bitch to him, he’ll placate her, then they’ll get groinal and pretend that fixes the problem. Whatever works for them.

I don’t like this. Someone on board – on me – is endangering the mission and, more importantly, my crew? That someone has to be one of my crew or the science team – one of them knows something about this. I trusted them. I trusted all of them.

And now, the person I care about most might become their prime target. Elliott’s smart but I don’t know if he’s a good liar. He’ll find out who’s doing this, I’m sure he will. But I don’t want him to get hurt. What if I can’t stop him getting hurt? It’s not like we can go to the SecOffs with this; it might be one of them doing this. And if Cirilli gets what she wants, I’ll be wiped and there won’t be anyone to look out for him. He’ll be all on his own.

I can’t let it happen. I just can’t.


STARWALKER: (in Engineering) Elliott?

ELLIOTT: (distracted and pacing again) Yeah?

SW: How can I help?

ELLIOTT: Hmm? Um, you can– wait, with what?

SW: With… whatever it is that’s bothering you so much.

ELLIOTT: Oh. Yeah. (He scrubs the back of his neck again.) How many drones can you spare? I’m gonna need your help processing the sensor feeds from the Step.

SW: I can pull the drones away from Ebling and Wong, and–

ELLIOTT: (wincing) No, no. They’ll only whine like little bitches. Just… send me whichever ones are free.

SW: Okay. Two on the way.

ELLIOTT: Thanks, Starry. (He resumes pacing again, murmuring to himself as he thinks the problem through.)


I won’t let it happen.

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5 Responses to “The first”

  1. Dash Says:

    “then they’ll get groinal…” LOL!

    Ooh it’s all hotting up! so exciting!

  2. capriox bovidae Says:

    awesome awesome awesome =D

  3. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, guys! Happy you’re enjoying it. 😀

  4. Becka Says:

    Oooh it’s an Whodunnit in space 😀

    I don’t know where to start with my theories 😀

    But I think the big clues are how entwinned pilot and ship are during a step and that fact that Starry seems to have residual memories from before the wipe. Residual memories which would make more sense for a human than an AI…


  5. Bethany Says:

    You know, I was thinking that too, Becka. The first pilot died while attempting a Step, and when the AI is booted back up it’s apparently more aware than it should be. Makes me wonder if human impressions can be burned into processors. Or maybe than tearing a hole in the universe opens them to more unknowns than they imagined.

    I love the mystery of it all, and I’m definetly keeping a close eye on this story.