Ship's log, 12:17, 4 May 2214 Location: Asteroid belt, Alpha Centauri Status: Stationary
Ident confirmed Systems initialising AI protocols engaged Sensors online Sublight engines online Thrusters online FTL engine online Environmental controls online
I am free again! I am out from under the binds that stop an unidentified ship from running. I am stretching into my skin, back where I should be.
I am no longer Starwalker of Isasimo Technologies. I am Starwalker of the new Stella Vita company.
I have taken the first step towards freedom from my old masters, from the project that killed a star.
Weapons systems activated... Anomaly detected Structural integrity error Configuration error Warning: structural integrity error
I am a bird with a broken wing. It’s nothing to worry about, though: my drones were partway through detatching one of my wings when Elliott started the ident replacement process. My boys have been mostly disabled while I was out of contact, so they haven’t been able to continue their work. Before my system access closed down, I was getting structural integrity errors every couple of seconds. My autolog is full of them. Now, my boys are resuming their work unpicking the cables, bolts, and tethers that keep my right wing in place.
I feel lopsided. It seems like this should hurt but it doesn’t. The errors burn brightly in my logs but I can filter them off to a side-file and ignore them. Perhaps that’s my pain, the prickling ache of removing something that shouldn’t be removed. It’s different to the clamouring sensor data when I’m damaged in combat, unexpectedly.
(The bulkhead closest to the centre of the ship is open: a panel has been unbolted and set aside. Glowing optical cables throng the space within, converging on circuit-boards and intersections, and curving around the black box nestled towards the back of the area. The cables are being held aside by magnetic clips, allowing access to the box’s home.)
ELLIOTT: (one hand resting on the box, he leans against the edge of the bulkhead’s open panel. Holographic displays encircle him, rippling with data. Most of it is green, indicating the usual system start-up messages. Red structural intergrity warnings flash in several places.) Starry, you with us?
CAPTAIN: (standing back near one of the doors to Engineer, he watches with his arms folded and a tense expression.)
STARRY: (voice only) Present and correct, Engineer Monaghan.
ELLIOTT: (frowning) Why are you calling me that?
STARRY: Chief Engineer Monaghan?
CAPT: (stands a little straighter, his lips pressing together.)
ELLIOTT: Starry… (He hesitates, then taps a command into the interface to his left.)
STARRY: I’m just teasing, Elliott. I’m fine. Systems look good. I already have that diagnostic running.
ELLIOTT: Where’s your avatar?
STARRY: I’m in the middle of seventeen diagnostics and startup protocols… oh, all right. (The ship’s avatar appears a step away from where Elliott is working.)
ELLIOTT: (moving an interface aside so he can see her. He seems satisfied that she doesn’t look strange or different.)
CAPT: (from the doorway) Now is really not the time for jokes.
STARRY: (turning to face him, her eyes widen at his serious expression) Sorry, captain.
ELLIOTT: How does the new ident feel?
STARRY: (shrugging) Weird. The new company tags are still propagating through my systems.
CAPT: No problems with it? Nothing unexpected?
STARRY: No, not yet. I’m checking. (She looks from Elliott to the captain and back again.) There was a problem installing it, wasn’t there? (She frowns.) Wait, from my date stamps, I was offline for over a day. It should only have taken a few hours….
ELLIOTT: (turns unhappily back to where the box sits in its nest of interfaces and cables, and starts tugging on components to make sure they’re securely seated) It’s fine, we got it all fixed.
STARRY: Got all what fixed?
ELLIOTT: (scowls at his work.)
CAPT: The ident wouldn’t initialise at first. It was locked down. Monaghan had to unlock it before we could get you back up.
STARRY: I don’t like the sound of this…
ELLIOTT: It was a hardware lock, only came up when I tried to hook it into you. I checked the data inside it; it’s clean. You should be fine now, Starry.
CAPT: It was designed to disable us for a while, delay us while the ship was offline. No doubt a result of certain affiliations that our source had.
STARRY: (folding her arms over her chest) You mean, the pirates. Disable us so they could swing by and scoop us up.
CAPT: (nods grimly) They have no way of knowing where we’d go to do this work, though. It may not even have been targeted just for us. It’s most likely a standard practice they throw into all of their idents.
STARRY: (jabbing a thumb over her shoulder towards her starboard side) Should I be stapling this wing back on? This doesn’t seem to be a good place to be wingless.
CAPT: (shakes his head slowly) Continue with the work. This is a good place for extra weaponry.
ELLIOTT: Brasco and the Chief have been on sensor-watch since you went offline, Starry. It’s all good.
STARRY: All right, but I’m running a double set of diagnostics anyway.
CAPT: (nods in agreement) Inform me if you find anything else.
ELLIOTT: (rolls his eyes.)
I didn’t want to come all the way out here to do this, but it might have saved us a lot of trouble. I thought being near other ships would be better protection for my crew; it turns out that it might have been the most dangerous thing for us. Pirates could have swept in and taken us over, and all the weapons I’m in the middle of installing would have been useless.
Then again, I’m not sure that being here really is much safer. I’ve been over Lang Lang’s charts, and these old FTL corridors link up to the Apus constellation: where the pirate home base moves around. I wouldn’t be surprised if this old network was how they got around. We might not be as isolated as we think we are, though for now, my sensors are showing no ships in the Alpha Centauri system.
My diagnostics are racing through my systems in double-time, as if they’re a pulse. As if they’re my body reacting to a threat that hasn’t shown itself yet. I have to know there’s nothing else going on under my skin. I have to know my crew are safe.
I can feel all of them. I can feel their heartbeats, thrumming away comfortingly. My captain is strong and steady as he strides to the Bridge to speak with my SecOffs, who are standing in place over my security consoles.
Elliott is scowling but his pulse is only slightly elevated from its normal rate. Considering that he looks like hell – and he has probably been up since he started this ident changeover process – I think it’s nothing to worry about. But I might have to chivvy him off to bed soon.
Everyone else is in varying shades of fine. Do they even know what the problem was? Was there any point worrying them about it?
I feel all right. My diagnostics are all coming back green, except those relating to my right side. Big Ass and Wide Load are continuing to detach the wing, so I can ignore those screaming warnings. I know there’s a breach; I made it. It’ll be fine in a day or so when we’re done refitting it with its new weapons and we can staple it back into place. Then, of course, we need to do the other wing.
I feel different, and it’s not because the work going on outside my hull makes me lopsided. Little changes are shifting through my insides, swapping one company name to another. It’s just a name, an arbitrary label that pops up in so many places even I can’t be bothered to count them. It should mean nothing to me. And yet, the difference matters.
It’s not like when I wore the pirate ident, either; that time, I knew it was temporary. I knew I’d get my real identity back. This time, I’m changing what the real one is.
It’s a symbolic step. I’m cutting coded ties, stripping off shackles. I’m leaving home in all the important ways.
Externally, the markers are coming off as well. Casper is outside, burning off the company logos stamped into my hull. He’s melting my metal, smoothing it off, and repainting over the spot. Even the maker’s marks are coming off, when all they do is say what company made my components. Is-Tech will have nothing on me, inside or out.
We could have changed my name. A few of us talked about it, but my captain didn’t support the idea. Being the Starwalker is part of who I am and he didn’t believe there was enough need to change it. There might be a hundred ships with the same name, but the Judiciary are only looking for the one with the Is-Tech ident. If someone really wants to find us, my unusual hull configuration with the filaments will give me away just as easily as a name might.
So I am me. I am lighter, but at the same time, heavy with more defenses and getting heavier all the time. Tougher.
I’m not much of a warship yet, but today, I feel like I could give Is-Tech a run for their money.