26 Sep

The hand we’re dealt

Ship's log, 22:45, 12 April 2214
Location: Edge of JOP sector
Status: Sublight transit

 

My life moves in circles. I walked a loop in time around Earth and made myself. Now I’ve flown a loop in space around the JOP and return here for the second time, to the place I was born. I wasn’t made here, but this is where I woke up and first knew the world, so to me, it’s where I started.

We’re not actually going back to the JOP. That would be silly: it’s the Judiciary base, and even with the Fall of Earth, they’re still going to be looking for me.

We’re not even within sensor range of the station yet. Immediate sensor range with no delays, that is; I can see the JOP’s distant glimmer but that light is hours old from here.

Nearby, I can hear its beacons chirping at me with news broadcasts and navigation updates, but I keep myself quiet to their sensors. I pull down the news in case there’s word about what’s happening on Earth, but there’s nothing useful yet. It’s all very bleak and dark, calling for more ships to help. There are interviews with a few ship captains and witnesses, all with the same shell-shocked expressions. Other interviews with religious expounders have a more fervent edge. There are few real facts and the truth feels slippery. They’re still waiting for reliable data from the planet to come through.

I can’t look back there right now. We have to look forward, to the path ahead of us, and I have to break free of these circles.

We’re only here out of necessity. This sector of space is a nexus of FTL corridors: the JOP was built out here as a refuelling and resupplying platform between Earth and the colonies. We mean only to skirt the edges of this area and leave again by a different FTL corridor.

Unfortunately, there’s a bit of debate going on about where exactly we should go from here. The captain and Lang Lang are talking on the Bridge, debating possibilities. I feel like I should contribute, but really, there’s nothing I could add that they don’t already know. Lang Lang knows the navigational implications of our options and the captain has the rest to balance.

Our original plan was to go straight to Dyne and sort out the ident issue, before going on to the stars we’ve stepped through to mend what we’ve broken. With Elliott sick, we might need to alter that plan. We can’t change the ident without him; fiddling with that kind of thing requires expert knowledge and careful hands. My boys can’t handle it because I’ll be crippled during the process. I wouldn’t risk it even if they could be programmed to handle it. What if something went wrong? No, it’s too dangerous.

The captain had been hoping that Elliott would be well by the time we got here, so we wouldn’t have to change course, but that’s not the case.. He is on the mend, though, according to the doctor. Elliott isn’t sedated so much any more, though he’s still sleeping a lot. His lips are not quite so pale and his temperature is easier to regulate, but he’s still suffering under this infection. Dr Socks says it’s pneumonia and not to worry about the coughing; it’s a natural part of the illness. It just sounds so awful. Elliott is on as much suppressant as his body can take and is responding to the antibiotics.

At least he isn’t fighting to get up any more. He seems to have accepted that he has to stay in Med Bay; the captain’s visit when he woke up for the first time might have had something to do with that, and explicit orders not to get up until the doctor gave the okay. He grumbles all the same but he’s just going through the motions. When he thinks no-one’s looking, the discomfort shows on his face. And sometimes, when a coughing fit subsides, he looks scared.

More than ever before, I wish I could hold his hand. Stroke his hair back from his forehead. All those small, stupid, useless things. I don’t want him to be alone with this.

The best I can do is sit my avatar next to him and talk about nothing. Like the state of the air scrubbers, or a hiccup in the artificial gravity in one of the cargo bays (I think if I reproduce it the right way, I’ll be able to juggle crates in there). When he’s looking restless, I send in drones with small pieces of equipment for him to fix, to keep his mind and his hands busy. They’re taken away again when he falls asleep.

Today, we played cards. He made me send Waldo to fetch a real deck, because he didn’t trust a holographic one. I’d know what all the cards were if I was projecting them and he didn’t think it was fair. As if I’d cheat! So Waldo had to stay and be my hands, which was a trial in itself, because he kept arguing with me about our tactics.

 

Recording: 14:13, 12 April 2214
Location: Med Bay

ELLIOTT: (frowning at the cards in his hand, then at the tray before him. He places a card down on a pile and draws another from the pack.) There.

STARRY: (seated on the end of the bed, though the hologram doesn’t make a ripple in the sheets) Waldo, play that one. (She points to a card in the drone’s hand.)

WALDO: (standing beside the bed with a hand of cards turned so that Elliott can’t see them, he draws the card next to the one Starry pointed at out of his hand.)

STARRY: No, not that one. To the left.

WALDO: (turns his head to look at the avatar and shakes the card he’s holding.)

STARRY: The other one!

ELLIOTT: (looks from the avatar to the drone and back again) Y’know, that’s kinda weird. Aren’t you supposed to be the boss of him?

STARRY: (scowling at the drone) Yes, I am.

WALDO: (widens his optical apertures at the avatar and slowly lays the card he’s holding.)

STARRY: No, that… (She sighs; once it’s down, it’s too late.) …is the wrong one.

ELLIOTT: Nah, it’s not. (He picks up the card in question and slides it into his hand. Then he spreads his cards out on the surface before him and grins.) Gin.

STARRY: (drops her face into her hands.)

WALDO: (places the rest of his cards on the table, and lifts another hand up near the bedside table.)

BYTE: (rises from his squat on the bedside unit and slaps Waldo’s hand.)

ELLIOTT: (amused) Hey, you guys, it’s mean to gang up on your ship.

STARRY: (throws her hands up) Yeah, now I have to come up with some creative punishments. Like sanitary duty for the both of you. How do you like those latrine pipes, Byte?

BYTE: (looks from Starry to Elliott and back again. His little shoulders slump. He points at Waldo.)

STARRY: (folding her arms over her chest) No, you’re not getting out of it. Someone has to clean them out. It’s that or send you outside to count all the bolts in my hull.

WALDO: (lets his head droop.)

DR SOCKS: (wandering by the end of the bed on the way to his desk at the end of the room) You were playing cards with a ship? Who can use sensors to see your hand?

ELLIOTT: (blinks) I forgot about…

STARRY: I did not! I didn’t look.

DR SOCKS: (grins to himself and walks on.)

STARRY: (to Elliott) I didn’t. (Turning to the drones.) You two! Sanitary duty. Now.

WALDO and BYTE: (turn and trundle off listlessly.)

ELLIOTT: (watches them go, his shoulders shaking with laughter, which quickly dissolves into coughing.)

Wretches, all of them. Still, it cheered Elliott up, so I can’t mind. And the sanitary pipes really do need cleaning out; they’ve been neglected with Byte spending so much time with Elliott. My engineer seems to appreciate the little drone being around, treats him like a pet, and I’m happy with that.

I’m not worried about Waldo’s defiance, either. I could have reinforced the order if I’d wanted to, but I didn’t. It feels better not to. I don’t know who or what my drones are becoming, but I’m curious to find out. They are part of me and not; they are an expression and a tool.

Right now, Byte is freshly-hosed-off and curled up on the back of Elliott’s hand. He’s monitoring the medical diagnostic outputs. He’s watching Elliott sleep, the same way I do from behind the screen of my sensors.

Meanwhile, on the Bridge, the implications of Elliott’s health are still being discussed. I should be joining in, but I really don’t care where we go next. Corsica, Apus; it’s all the same to me. It’s all one more step on our journey, one more move in the right direction. Does it really matter which one we take first?

The main sticking point seems to be how much time we spend in this system; going all the way around the edge to an FTL corridor on the other side would be time-consuming and more than a little suspicious. The corridor to Dyne is not far away but Corsica’s access is halfway around the JOP from here.

Oh, wait. The captain is calling for me

 

Location: Bridge

(The captain is standing before his captain’s seat and Lang Lang is at the navigation console off to his right. Before them, the centre of the room is dominated by a projection of the local part of the galaxy. Routes between stars are marked out in differing colours, each one denoting an alternate path that jags through the network of FTL corridors. Names hover near each point in the journeys: Dyne, Corsica, Apus, Lambda 1, Feras.)

STARRY: (appears to the captain’s left) Yes, captain?

CAPTAIN: (frowning at the display before him thoughtfully) Any news on Elliott’s condition?

STARRY: He’s getting better, slowly. The doctor says it might take a while before he’s back to full strength.

CAPT: How long is ‘a while’?

STARRY: Hard to say, but weeks, I think.

CAPT: How long until he’ll be fit for light duties?

STARRY: Less than that, but… still a couple of weeks. The doc was really cagey about it the last time I asked him. He’s not keen for Elliott to go planetside any time soon, either.

CAPT: (glancing at Lang Lang) And how long to Dyne from here?

LANG LANG: At least a week, maybe more, depending on traffic in the corridors.

CAPT: (subsides into thought again.)

STARRY: (after a moment) What is it you’re thinking?

CAPT: That perhaps we’re coming at this wrong. Rather than waiting for Elliott to get better before we start our business at Dyne, we pick up what we need to and have him work on it when he’s able.

STARRY: (drily) If he’s not involved, Elliott will want to verify all of our purchases.

CAPT: Of course. We’ll have him check it all on delivery.

STARRY: But what about the ident? How can we get that fixed if it’s still connected to me?

CAPT: If they can hack an ident, they can imprint a new one.

STARRY: You want to go to the black market and buy a new one?

CAPT: (gives the avatar a steady look) Where do you think we’ll have to go to get it hacked? And the weapons?

STARRY: (blinks and shifts her weight) True. Can we afford black market prices for this stuff?

CAPT: Hard to know yet. I’ll have to check with Cameron and the Lieutenant to see what their contacts can give us. And if we can’t… we should think about overwriting the other ident we have.

STARRY: From the Carapace?

CAPT: (nods slowly) It would be a nice backup to have, but it might be worth the sacrifice. I’ll check with the doctor and the Chief tomorrow, see what they think. But this might work. Thank you, Starry.

STARRY: (nods to her captain) Any time.

LANG LANG: I’ll save the course options in case you want to review them later. And see if I can find any other old FTL corridors we can use.

CAPT: (lays a hand on the navigator’s shoulder briefly) Wonderful, thank you. Now, go get some sleep. That’s an order.

 

Looks like we have another option on the table. I suppose it depends on what resources we have at our disposal and whether we can afford a new ident. You’re not supposed to be able to buy them from anywhere except a ship-building company like Is-Tech, but that’s why there’s a black market: for sly endeavours like ours. And less well-intentioned ones. Cameron and the captain will work it out.

Everyone is going to bed. My decks are sleeping. My people’s heartbeats are soft and slow. I continue to drift towards the FTL corridor to Dyne, in case that plan still holds. The sooner we can leave this sector, the better. I want to break this circle and make something new.

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6 Responses to “The hand we’re dealt”

  1. Marcus Says:

    Glad to see your feeling well enough to keep writing. Don’t push yourself too hard, more that willing to wait a bit between updated if it means a healthy writer.

  2. Francisco Says:

    Now that they’re not stepping any more, could they do what the pirates wanted and change the shape of the ship?

  3. Melanie Says:

    Marcus – thank you! I appreciate your understanding and good wishes. 🙂 I’m doing much better now.

    Francisco – very good question! They’d have to balance that kind of thing up with aerodynamics and in-atmosphere flying. But it’ll make an interesting debate, I think. 😉

  4. mjkj Says:

    Well, I think they should not.

    It is after all good for an emergency exit — and who knows how it would interfere with the filaments…

    …and they definitely need those filaments to “heal” the stars…

    Yayy, great that you feel better Melanie *hugs*

    mjkj

  5. Roxie Says:

    Slight correction, if I may: More than ever before, I wish I could hold his hand. Stroke his head back from his forehead. –> More than ever before, I wish I could hold his hand. Stroke his hair back from his forehead.

    Love this story!

  6. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – true, they do need the filaments to complete their work. They’re not ‘done’ with the Step mechanism yet!

    Roxie – hi and welcome! Glad you enjoy the story. 🙂
    You’re completely right about the correction – fixed now. Thanks for letting me know!