09 Apr

The rose smells so sweet

Ship's log, 20:02, 9 April 2213
Location: Grisette system (unverified)
Status: Wide orbit around Grisette sol (unverified)

 

It has been a difficult week. First the hidden datastore was exposed and thrust into the light, and then there was all the questions. What happened, why did I shut down, how do they know it won’t happen again.

I didn’t know what to tell them; I’m still working a lot of it out for myself and answers haven’t been easy to find. I was punched in the head and my memory banks were scrambled, as if I’d lost all of my own indexes. I had to rebuild it all from the beginning, reconfigure myself to fit it all in and filter the disparate shards of code into a cohesive whole.

It was the name that did it. That name that no-one has said since this incarnation of me was brought into the world. It tripped something vital inside, shattered the last of those central defenses and threw everything together. It felt like I was exploding and being crushed at the same time.

They’re still talking about wiping me when they think I’m not looking. I have to tell them what I know, even if it doesn’t answer all of their questions. It’s time to stop hiding.

It’s time to tell them who I am.

 

STARWALKER: (shipwide) All crew and scientific personnel to the Bridge, please.

 

If I had a heart, it would be racing right now. Clawing its way up the inside of my throat and blocking all the words I want to say.

They look confused, but they’re coming. They’re starting to ask who summoned them, bewildered because the captain is as clueless as they are. But they’re coming. Just waiting for Cirilli and Tyler, and then everyone is present. The captain is sitting in his central station; Levi’s at the inactive manual piloting controls; Lang Lang’s at navigation. Tripi is at the weapons console; Cameron’s at the security station. Rosie is standing by one of the doors. Ebling and Wong are lurking near the Star Step displays. Maletz is on the other side, looking bored. Elliott is over by the internal monitoring station, fiddling with his favourite scanner.

Here they are. Cirilli with a fast-clipped stride and Tyler at an alert saunter. I have no idea how he pulls that attitude off, but he makes it work. He’s taking up a position at the other Bridge door, automatically mirroring Rosie. Cirilli is going to stand behind the captain’s left shoulder. Must not be irritated with her. There’s no room for it right now.

 

CAPTAIN: Starwalker, why have you assembled everyone?

SW: There are some things I have to show you. You all have questions, and… I must ask you to listen.

 

They are exchanging glances, all except the SecOffs; they’re trained better than to let themselves be distracted when something important is going on. The tension in the room just ratcheted up a couple of notches, but no-one is interjecting. Even Maletz is paying attention now, the medic that is seldom affected by anything onboard.

 

SW: I have pieced together what happened in the first Step. The one that was attempted before I was born. The one that killed Danika Devon.

CAPT: (frowns) Why did you do that?

SW: Because it matters. Because it’s the key to everything.

DR CIRILLI: It was a failure.

SW: Yes, it was. It failed in so many ways, including ones you didn’t expect. It even failed to kill Danika properly.

EVERYONE: (silent.)

CAPT: (looks down, the colour draining from his face.)

SW: She is dead – it did do that. But she’s not gone, not completely. The ship had breached the threshold of the portal when it happened, and she was hooked into all of the systems through her neural implants. The ship’s sensors were her senses; her reflexes were the ship’s movements. They were… entwined. When the power surge hit, she was fused into the data cores. The neural representation that Tripi unlocked – that’s her.

(A holographic image of the files forms in the holographic tank in the centre of the room. It shifts and coalesces, then shrinks into the shape of a human brain, alive with flashes of neurons firing.)

That’s the copy of her mind that was taken, right at that moment. It was locked up and buried, hidden deep in the archives. I think the previous AI was trying to protect it. Maybe… maybe hide it away from the pain. It hurt so much, dying.

LANG LANG: (softly) She wouldn’t stop screaming.

ROSIE: (gruffly) Even after she was toast.

CAMERON: We had to shut the AI down to make it stop.

SW: Then you started me up, brought me into the world. Somehow, my code was still tangled with the brain-copy, and it was trying to merge with me.

ELLIOTT: But the code was clean when I loaded it up. I checked it

SW: Yes. I don’t know how to explain it. Burying Danika’s data in the archives hid it from your scans, but I think it affected everything around it. As soon as I loaded the archives into active memory, they – she – became part of me.

ELLIOTT: How did we never detect this? I checked, even after you were booted up.

SW: She was buried too deep, even from me. She affected me sometimes, like… a subconscious force in a human mind, I suppose.

CIRILLI: (coldly) And now?

SW: Danika was locked behind a firewall. When that was breached, I couldn’t keep her separate any more. I had to incorporate her into my code and subroutines.

EBLING: Had to?

SW: It was that, or we both would have been destroyed. The data was so unstable. And I didn’t want to die again. Once was enough.

WONG: You remember dying? That’s not possible. Transferring human data to a synthetic environment hasn’t been achieved yet. Right, doctor?

MALETZ: True. Danika had the latest implants, but nothing like this has been reported, not even with experimental specs. (Drily,) Not for want of trying, of course.

CIRILLI: But you claim to have access to her memories, ship?

SW: I do. Not all of them – I am still reconstructing and compiling it. I remember playing cards with the crew in the Mess. I remember your instructions, Dr Cirilli. The painstakingly detailed ones about flying through the portal. You spent a great deal of time with Danika, explaining them.

CIRILLI: (looks sideways at the crew, then back at the holographic brain.) I did. Did you use them?

SW: No, I didn’t have access to them then. I made my own way.

 

No point telling her that her instructions would have been useless once we were outside the universe anyway. Hell, they’re hardly useful inside the universe; she’s many things, but a pilot isn’t one of them.

When I scan around this room, filled with my people, I have memories of all of them (except Levi, of course). Like Elliott shouting at me because I broke a wing by trying an impossible manoeuvre and blowing out three thrusters. And Wong trying to explain how the immersion couch worked, as if I didn’t already know. So many little moments; I want to tell them, but the pained looks on their faces tell me that I’ve raked up enough.

I remember the captain, too. I remember– oh, shit. No wonder he looks so ashen about all of this.

 

TRIPI: (leaning forward, fascinated by the holographic brain) What about the rest? Did any of it get scrambled in the transfer?

SW: I don’t think so. I don’t detect any corruption or missing files.

TRIPI: So what does this mean? If your code has merged with the transferred mind – does this mean you’re her?

ELLIOTT: (kicks the wall panel under his station.)

SW: I don’t think I understand.

 

This was a mistake. I should have waited; I should have done more investigation first. I should have had more answers for them. And for me.

 

CAPT: (flatly) You’re not Danika.

SW: I— no. She’s a part of me. But I’m… different.

CAPT: (looking at Elliott, and then to Tripi) Can it be undone?

ELLIOTT: (scowls and mutters under his breath) Fuck is wrong with you?

TRIPI: (pulling up a display on her own terminal to check) If the code has been merged like she said? No.

CAPT: What about the backups?

ELLIOTT: That’s what we tried last time, remember?

TRIPI: And we’d have to find the hidden archive that all our diagnostics missed last time, or we’d lose the brain copy. And the last remaining piece of Danika.

ELLIOTT: The great fucking undo button in the sky isn’t gonna fix this one.

 

Suddenly I can see their choice in a way I didn’t before: if they wipe me, they kill their friend. If I’d been smarter, I might have done this on purpose, set it up to make it as difficult as possible for them. I hadn’t even thought about it like that before. I want to tell them that, but I don’t think they’d believe me.

 

CAPT: (frowning at the holographic display) So what are we supposed to do with you?

 

Shit. Why ask me that? What the hell am I supposed to say? Why even pretend that this is up to me?

 

SW: Let me do what I was made to do. I can Star Step, captain. I can do the job you fired me up to do. You said that Stepping required a human pilot? Well, maybe that’s why I was able to do it – I have the mind of a human pilot in me. I can be what you need me to be because of what happened. Because of what I am.

CAPT: (leans forward, resting a forearm on his knee) Because of who you are? Who is that? What should we be calling you now?

 

Calling me? Is he asking me my name? But… I… that’s not as easy to answer as it should be! I have these memories that feel like mine, but at the same time they’re not, and it’s so confusing. I’m her and I’m not and I don’t know.

 

SW: (quietly) I am a ship. I am the Starwalker. Whatever – whoever – I was before, that is what I am now.

CAPT: (sits back, expression clamped down in thought.)

SW: I believed you should all know what has happened. Captain, Dr Cirilli, I can do the job you need me to do.

 

Don’t kill me. That’s what I want to tell them: please don’t kill me. I just want to live, to carry on doing what I’ve been doing: being their ship. I haven’t been an awful ship, have I? I’ve tried to be good, for them.

They don’t want to hear that, though. They won’t listen. They just want a computer to make calculations and run all the things they don’t want to run themselves. That’s what they’re used to. The captain wants to make sure I’m not a danger; he’s responsible for everyone in that room. So am I, but he doesn’t trust me. I make him nervous, and everyone else with him. They don’t understand what I am. I can’t blame them – neither do I.

 

CAPT: Was there anything else you wanted to tell us?

SW: No, captain. That was all. Thank you.

CAPT: Everyone, dismissed.

 

There they go, exchanging looks but no words as they sift out of the Bridge. Back to their own decks, and stations, and passtimes. Back to incorporate this new data into their regular lives, if they can. Back to something familiar and comforting.

I wish I could go away somewhere. Shut a door and hide from them all. Turn my music up loud and pretend I can’t hear them. I want to run. I want to deflate and slide down the wall to sit on the floor. I want to cover my eyes for a while.

But I’m a ship. I’m in a steady orbit around a star, with nowhere to tuck myself into and no wall to lean against. No shoulders to slump or head to hold. I’m a ship who remembers what it’s like to have a body and, for the first time, I want to cry.

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5 Responses to “The rose smells so sweet”

  1. capriox bovidae Says:

    =(

    You can borrow my tear ducts, Starry! I’d go bang on the crew’s head and tell ’em not to kill you, if I could. Isn’t there some sort of future-space-fiction version of the ACLU around to protect her rights now that she’s quasi-human? I hope so =(

    Thought this was where it was going after Monday’s post. Played out nicely.

  2. Becka Says:

    Yup! I was right! *punches air*

  3. Melanie Says:

    Capriox – That’s gonna be the question! How do you solve a problem like Starry? (sung to the tune of The Sound of Music‘s ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria’, with Starry frolicking in an asteroid belt).

    Becka – yes! Well called. Good for you!

  4. Steph Says:

    Great post! I was looking forward to it. Not that I was really surprised by the events. As soon as the old pilots name was revealed it all clicked into place for me. I was just waiting to see if I was right.

    Now comes the part that is still shaded in gray for me. What happenes next? How do they fix this? Is is considered murder if they shut Starry down now?

    So many questions. Eagerly awaiting Monday’s post.

  5. Nomen Nescio Says:

    they still don’t know where they are, or how to get back, so they’d be foolish to shut her down any time soon no matter what they might want. that was very well set up, by the way, i didn’t grok that until a post or two after the step.