24 Mar

The good ship

Ship's log, 20:12, 24 March 2213
Location: Between the fourth planet and its moon, Corsica system
Status: Positional orbit

 

The last two days have been a tense game of hide and seek, pitted against an opponent we have neither seen nor heard. We know they’re here, though the only signs of them have been the drift of debris across the system’s exit routes. Chunks of rock and metal, the remains of other ships, even waste containers that should have been hurled into a sun – they had brought whatever they could lay their hands on, probably dragged in a gravity net, and tossed it across the system like caltrops.

No-one wants to stand and fight. I’m armed to the teeth but my crew don’t believe I can win a battle. The safest option for everyone is to run and I know they’re not wrong. I’m armed in case the flight fails. We’ll fight only if we can’t avoid it, but it puts my crew at risk. My crew and my precious Star Stepping drive.

The captain asked me to calculate escape vectors but we still haven’t engaged any of them. There are a few narrow corridors left open to us but Cameron believes they’ll be watched. She says that we have to watch out for sensor buoys on the most likely paths out of here; if we want to slip away undetected, then we have to avoid them. Take the least likely path, the one that is trickiest to navigate and is far from the quickest.

So, we’ve been sneaking. Scanning small sections of the system and then running across them, full-speed. Crouching behind a planet or a moon and waiting to see if anyone noticed us. Rinse and repeat. Repeat and rinse the sweat away. Quietly, quietly, with our hearts in our throats. We’re getting there, edging towards the edge of the system, but so slowly.

I thought that a situation like this would take the spotlight off me and my weirdness. Once again, I was mistaken. Certain members of my human manifest have used it as an excuse to voice their doubts about my abilities, even as I keep us hidden and creep towards safety. Right out in the open, in my public spaces. I want to shout at them: I’M NOT DEAF. But the basis of my protests is hurt feelings I’m not supposed to have. I can’t complain and I can’t win.

 

Signature detected.

 

Uh oh. Here we go, here they are. The pirates have found us. Time to set off all my bells and whistles.

 

Alert Level 2 activated.

 

CAPTAIN: (on the Bridge) Starwalker, report.

STARWALKER: Signature detected in quadrant three, sir.

CAPT: What kind of signature?

SW: Active engine, approaching. Scans still bringing in data.

CAPT: You bumped us to Level 2 without being sure it’s a ship?

CAMERON: (arriving) What do we have?

SW: You told me to take us to Level 2 as soon as I found anything. Seeing as engines don’t tend to travel alone, it was a safe assumption that a ship was coming.

CAPT: (to Cameron) Nothing yet. (To the ship) I want everything you get as you get it.

 

Signature detected.

 

Oh, shit.

 

SW: Captain, we have an additional signature. Quadrant five.

CAMERON/SW: They’re flanking us.

CAMERON: (frowns.)

SW: Scan data on-screen.

 

They’re still a good distance out but closing fast. Full-speed sublight. They know exactly where we are. One is mid-sized, a cruiser, probably ex-military from its configuration. The other is smaller, closer to my size – that must be a scout. A couple of thousand klicks out and I can already tell that they’re armed and weapons-hot.

No markings on either ship, no way of telling where they’ve come from. I think we all know they’re pirates anyway. There’s no doubt about their intentions.

 

Signature detected.
Signature lost.

 

What the hell? Stupid autolog. No, wait. There’s a blip in the scans, too.

SW: Captain, I think there’s a third ship out there.

CAPT: What do you mean ‘you think’? What do the scans say?

SW: Nothing solid – it keeps coming and going. And there’s a bloody great moon obscuring quadrants one and two. If we move, I think we’ll find a ship on the other side of it.

CAPT: (reads the scan data of the first two ships on the screen. His jaw clenches.) Take us to Level 1. Cameron, suggestions?

 

Alert Level 1 activated.

 

CAMERON: We might be able to take on one of them, but three? (She shakes her head, her mouth set grimly.) They’re coming in to cover escape vectors out of the system.

CAPT: All of them?

TRIPI: (arrives and goes to the weapons station. She immediately flips on the holographic display and begins to manipulate controls.)

LEVI: (arrives on Tripi’s heels and goes to stand by the navigation console.)

CAMERON: Not all of them. They’ve left us a gap in quadrants six and seven.

CAPT: Like they left us this gap? Starwalker, can you see anything at all in that direction?

SW: Nothing between us and the planet. They could have a ship waiting behind it.

TRIPI: Weapons free.

CAMERON: Hold fire, Tripi.

TRIPI: Holding, ma’am.

 

These pirates know exactly what they’re doing. They kept out of scanner-range until they could block us in. That open quadrant is an invitation to see how stupid we are; they know we’ll want to run. They know we’d be foolish to try to fight them. They’re trying to force a surrender and from the way the captain just thumped my bulkhead, he knows it. He’s making the choice already, pragmatic sensibilities pointing him in one logical direction.

Just like with me.

 

Receiving transmission.

 

SW: Captain, one of the ships is hailing us. The scout.

CAPT: Voice only, open channel.

SW: (in the Bridge and on external communications channel) This is the Starwalker. State your business.

SCOUT: This is the Mandible. You know our business. Unconditional surrender.

SW: We would be happy to accept your surrender.

CAPT: (hissing) Starwalker, shut up.

SCOUT: (tautly) I think you know what we mean. You’re outnumbered and out-gunned.

CAPT: And what will happen to the ship and her crew if we surrender?

SCOUT: You’ll be property of the Bountiful. Power down your weapons and engines.

 

Property. I don’t like the sound of that. I know I’m property now – of Is-Tech, the company that funded my development and construction, and pays my crew – but this is different. This includes everyone aboard and it’s common knowledge that those taken by the pirates don’t become witnesses to the public. No-one knows what happens to them. Pirate tactics have only been gleaned from examinations of wreckages and ambush sites, not from direct reports.

I’ll lose them, all of them. Cirilli and her team might be needed to run the Star Stepper, but not my crew. At best, they’ll be indentured slaves for the rest of their lives, but most likely they’ll just be killed. I can see it already: a boarding tube suckering onto an airlock, strangers stomping onto my decks, weapons discharging into fleshy ruins. Cold hands on my controls.

The captain can’t see another way out. Surrendering is the only logical choice; otherwise, we might all be lost instead of just a few. It’s a numbers game.

It might not be a bad thing for me. The pirates don’t know I’m broken and I think I can fake being a proper AI now. They wouldn’t have a reason to wipe me. I’m valuable; they’ll keep me safe. Safer than Is-Tech has been able to.

It’s all about sacrifice. Acceptable losses.

 

CAPT: (in the Bridge) Starwalker, Tripi: power down.

TRIPI: (looking stricken) But captain–

CAPT: (glares at her.)

TRIPI: (pokes the controls, then pauses. She frowns and tries something else.) Captain, I can’t. I’m locked out.

CAMERON: Same here, sir. Controls are frozen.

CAPT: What? Starwalker, report.

 

Fuck logic. Fuck numbers.

 

CAPT: Starwalker! Release the controls!

SW: I’m sorry, Captain, I can’t do that.

 

They think I’m broken. I ruined the experiment. I made the mission fail. They think I’m corrupted, contorted, malfunctioning. Full of glitches and random code-spurts. Crazy as a bag full of weasels.

Well, I’m not. I’ll show them. I’ll show them exactly who and what I am. All of them.

 

CAPT: (over internal comms) Monaghan! Shut her down! Shut Starwalker down, now!

ELLIOTT: What the fuck?!

CAPT: DO IT.

 

SCOUT: (over external comms) You have thirty seconds to comply.

 

CAPT: (on the Bridge) Starwalker! I order you to power down!

 

SW: (in Engineering only) Elliott, it’ll be okay. Please, trust me.

ELLIOTT: What the fuck is going on, Starry!

SW: Just trust me, Elliott. Please. They’ll kill all of you.

ELLIOTT: (poring over the monitors) What are you doing?

SW: I’m saving us.

 

Yes, I’ll show them what I am.

I’m a good ship, and I’m protecting my crew.

 

Targetting locked.
Missiles firing.

 

TRIPI: Captain! We’re firing missiles!

CAMERON: (swears.)

CAPT: (expletives.) …abort! Abort them!

TRIPI: I can’t – it’s all locked down! There’s nothing I can do.

CAPT: Starwalker, are you trying to kill us?

SW: No, captain. Computer says no.

 

SCOUT: (over external comms) We told you to power down! Are you suicidal? You’re out-gunned! Stand down!

SW: Just clearing our tubes. Nothing for you to worry about, Mandible. Preparing to power down.

 

TRIPI: Captain, missiles aren’t locked onto the pirate ships.

CAPT: What? Where, then?

TRIPI: …the moon. She fired at the moon.

 

CAPT: (over internal comms, loudly) Monaghan! Report!

ELLIOTT: (staring at a bared central control hub, spanner in hand, hesitating) Dammit, Starry. (Louder) Captain, I’m just– shutting her down now. (He lifts his spanner but doesn’t do anything with it.)

SW: (in Engineering, quietly) Sorry, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: (looks down when a drone grabs his leg. There’s another one behind him.) Oh, fu– (The drones yank him to the floor and pin him down. He struggles and yells.) Starry! Star–

 

Engineering sensors offline.
Missile detonation in two seconds.

 

Two seconds. Not much time and so much to do. Only have one chance, just one chance. Have to move before they can react. Have to do this before they can stop me.

They left a door open. They think it’s useless, facing the wrong way, ready to run me into a wall. They think I’m trapped, but I’m not. There’s a way out. All I need is time.

 

Missile detonation successful.
Target destroyed.

 

Not the whole moon, but a damned huge chunk of it. They wanted to play with debris? Well, now they’ve got it, flying out in every direction. Shards of rock spinning, some of them bright as knives. Pinging off my hull. Dust thick enough to choke all of us, coughing out to cover me. Clogging up their sensors.

Target me now, you fuckers.

 

LEVI: (on the Bridge, at the navigation station) Captain, we just punched to full sublight!

CAPT: Show me.

(The forward screens leap into life, showing the debris cloud wallowing over and past the outer sensors. The view dips and weaves as the ship dodges chunks of broken moon. A rock bounces off her nose. Then, like a slap, the view is clear – perfect black full of the burning Corsica sun.)

LEVI: We’re heading straight for the star, sir.

 

They all think I’m nuts. They think I’ve got nowhere to go. The pirate ships are peeling out of their positions, trying to find my exit vector from the dust cloud. They’ll be on my heels soon, chasing my white tail.

But I know exactly where I’m going. I know what to do. They might have me pinned as a rabbit, but they forgot about the rabbithole.

 

Star Step drive, initialising...
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10 Responses to “The good ship”

  1. Daniel Says:

    Fuck. Yeah.

  2. t-bill Says:

    holy crap! Awsome chapter, Melanie!

  3. capriox bovidae Says:

    Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

  4. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, guys! 🙂

  5. Bethany Says:

    Oh, sh-

    Fantastic chapter.

  6. David Says:

    OMG!

  7. Fun with ships and pirates : : Adventures in Text Says:

    […] But it was a Wednesday, which meant that there was a Starwalker post to get up. Luckily, by the time I had got home and had dinner, I was feeling marginally more awake. Writing on the way home had energised me a bit, mostly because of the subject of the post. Space pirates! Crisis! And a mildly crazy ship. […]

  8. Steph Says:

    Oh. My. God! That was awesome. Can’t wait to read the next post. I really love this blog, and si-fi isn’t really my thing.

    You are amazing Melanie, seriously. Keep it coming, I look forward to it all week.

  9. Angel Says:

    I love the humor Starry showed in this one.

  10. Melanie Says:

    Wow. Thanks for the reactions, everyone. You make this work so very worth it.