21 Mar

Trusting strangers

Captain's log, 20:37, 15 March 2214
Location: Wide orbit near Earth Moonbase, Home System
Status: Stationary and powered down


This is Captain Warwick reporting.

I wish I had better things to enter into this report. My ship is disabled, all of her major systems offline. Monaghan says there’s severe hardware damage but he assures me that the software should be fine. Starry is okay; she’s just offline for now.

Even I know that taking an AI offline is a dangerous move. Or rather, re-initialising them is the tricky part. But Monaghan says that he can get her back up, so I’m leaving him to it. I have to trust that he knows what he’s doing; he hasn’t failed us yet.

I’m not proud of how I reacted last night. Starry going down… I thought we were losing her. Really losing her. It was worse than facing down an angry star threatening to blow us all up. At least if that had happened, we wouldn’t have been here to miss our ship. Our Starry.

Perhaps I should just put the sensor log in here. The logging system is still running, at least.


Recording: 23:01, 14 March 2214
Location: Cargo Bay 3

STARRY: (looking at the captain) Keep you safe. (The hologram shatters, raining light.)


LANG LANG: (gasps and covers her mouth with a hand. Her eyes fill with tears.)

ROSIE: (blinks strickenly at the spot where the avatar was, then tenses her jaw and levels her weapon at the rescuees again. Her grip is so tight on her gun that her knuckles turn white.)

CAMERON: (presses her lips together unhappily but doesn’t take her attention off the star’s avatar.)



CAPT: Monaghan, you’d better–

CAMERON: (checking her forearm display) Captain, the internal comms are down. He can’t hear you.

CAPT: (snaps his mouth shut, scowling.)

KESS: What just–

CAPT: (rounding on her) You need to stop now. You’ve done enough damage today.

KESS: (blinks with surprise at the force of his anger) I heard your ship was different, but…

CAPT: If you want us to believe that a star has a spirit, then you should believe that a ship can have one too. Now stay out of our way. (He turns his back on her, addressing his crew.) Rosie, get those two to Med Bay and get them cleaned up. Swann, go get the doctor out of that escape pod and then see if you can get back on the laser defenses. There’s debris heading in our direction. Cameron, stay here and keep an eye on this lot. Dr Cirilli, work out what the hell this person is and what’s going on here. I want answers by the time I get back.

ROSIE: (nods and shepherds the two rescuees out of the cargo bay ahead of her by shoving at them with her gun) Come on, you heard the man. Turn right. Step wrong and I’ll shoot you in the ass.

MALE RESCUEE: (to Rosie) The ass?

ROSIE: Won’t kill you, but it will stop you making any other wrong steps.

SWANN: (looks bemused, but he doesn’t hesitate in walking out of the cargo bay to follow the order.)

CAMERON: (nods smartly, eyeing Kess curiously.)

CAPT: (lingers only long enough to make sure his orders are being carried out. Then he leaves and turns for Engineering.)

CIRILLI: (looks like she’s just been slapped. She seems about to argue, but the captain is striding for the door before she has the chance to say anything.)

KESS: (watches the captain go with a quiet, approving smile.)

Engineering was a mess when I got down there. Parts all over the floor, the stink of burning plastic and melting components, a drone twitching in the corner. Monaghan was elbow-deep in a wall, swearing steadily and ripping chunks of hardware out.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified. It was bad enough losing Danika the first time, and the thought of losing this last part of her, along with Starry, who we have all grown so close to… I was harsher with him than he might have deserved. He shouted a lot and waved a spanner around, then told me to leave so he could work.

Monaghan will bring her back. He’s more attached to her than most, and he has promised that he can do it. It will take time, he says. Parts need to be replaced, protections put in place. Monaghan hasn’t ever been wrong about his abilities before and I have to believe him now. We don’t have a choice but to let him try. Another day or two at least, he says, before he can try to bring her online.

Another day or two, sitting here like this, stationary and helpless. The debris cloud from the Firebird‘s explosion overtook us a few hours after Starry went down; we’ve had to close off the port side due to a couple of solid impacts. Monaghan won’t tear himself away from his work to check the extent of the damage but I checked it out earlier and it doesn’t seem too serious. A couple of sections are sealed in case there’s any hull integrity damage that our limited sensors aren’t picking up.

We had forgotten about the Firebird‘s distress beacon, but we were forcibly reminded when a rescue ship turned up, about twelve hours ago. The Moonbase above Earth had picked up the signal and despatched a recovery unit: a scout-come-scavenger called the Brisk. Our communications are still out, so the ship had to get close enough for short-range personal comms to work (there’s one built into my arm now, and it feels strange to use, though it was helpful in this situation).

We hadn’t got any kind of story straight. We have so many questions right now and not enough answers for ourselves, never mind something prepared for anyone else. But the rescue ship needed an answer.

Insert sensor log.


Recording: 08:02, 15 March 2214
Location: Med Bay

CAPTAIN: (walking in and speaking sharply) Kess, I need you to confirm that you’re happy to stay aboard while we effect repairs.

KESS: (standing between the two beds where her crewmates are lying. She turns around to face the oncoming captain.)

(The two rescuees look fine, though Warren is still pale. His head wound has been treated and the blinking readouts over his bed are steady and strong. Him and his female crewmate are cleaner than they were when they arrived on board.)

ROSIE: (at her post by the door, she eyes the captain briefly, then waves the doors closed behind him.)

KESS: (calmly) Confirm to whom?

CAPT: There’s a ship asking if we or the Firebird‘s crew need assistance. (He lifts his right hand by way of explanation, showing the holographic tags hovering above his wrist that indicate a call in progress. The word ‘HOLD’ blinks languidly.) Unless you’re in a hurry to leave?

KESS: (looks down at her crewmates with a question in her eyes. They don’t hesitate in shaking their heads.)

WARREN: (to Kess) We go where you go, you know that.

KESS: (gives him a grateful smile, then nods at the captain’s wrist.)

CAPT: (gestures with a finger and the ‘HOLD’ notice disappears.)

KESS: This is Kess, captain of the Firebird. Thank you for responding to our distress beacon, but the Starwalker was kind enough to pick us up. We don’t need any further assistance.

BRISK: You are there of your own free will?

KESS: (glances up at the captain’s face.)

CAPT: (watches her flatly and says nothing.)

KESS: We are. The Starwalker was damaged when they rescued us, and we are helping with repairs.

BRISK: We’ll see you when you dock at the Moonbase to file a report of the incident, then.

KESS: We’ll be there as soon as we can. Thank you for your assistance.

CAPT: (nods) Yes, thank you, Brisk. Is there anything else you need from us today?

BRISK: Everything seems in order, Captain Warwick.

CAPT: (turns to leave Med Bay again, murmuring to the rescue ship on his way out) Excellent. Now, about that tow…

Being asked to stay where we were would have been too suspicious, so we let the Brisk tow us to orbit near Earth’s moon, close enough for short-range comms to be picked up. None of us are eager to be this near to a place the Judiciary frequents, but there aren’t any cruisers in the system right now and we needed to attract as little attention as possible. We’re all hoping that our luck holds.

The Brisk was worried that we were scavengers set on abusing the Firebird‘s people for our own ends; little do they know that it’s the Starwalker crewmembers who aren’t here of our own free will. However, we have so many questions that we don’t want the Firebird‘s people to leave, not yet, even if it might make our lives simpler.

We have confirmed the worst of what brought us here. When I got back to the cargo bay after haranguing Monaghan, Dr Cirilli and her people had untangled the truth that tripped Starry up. At least, what I assume tripped her up.

Our Step back in time to Earth a month ago took us back forty years and started a chain reaction in Terra Sol. The instabilities in the star caused by the Step were prolonged and exacerbated by experimentation with her gravity fields over the decades that followed, and the star was unable to recover. Since the research was moved to a different system, Kess has been trying to restabilise her gravity tides but Lang Lang was right: it is affecting Earth. After our latest Step into this system, it’s getting worse, enough to threaten something catastrophic.

And yet, we are not solely to blame for it. Kess’s reaction to our presence that caused us to be there in the first place; she sent the pirates that drove us to it.

Starry is right: causality should not be a circle. No wonder she melted her own components. It’s giving me a headache just thinking about it, and I don’t have her extrapolation engines.

I’m not sure what to think of Kess yet. I believe that she is what she says she is – the avatar of this system’s star – but how much faith we should place in her is another question. My instincts tell me to trust her but recent experience holds me back.

Her reactions are hard to fathom. She came to us hurting and furious at what we’ve done to her, and yet, she seems to hold no malice towards us. The more she learns of us and our situation, the calmer and less angry she becomes. I didn’t see that smile she gave in the sensor log – when I left the cargo bay – until today, and I still don’t know what to make of it. She was pleased by my reactions, even though I was rude to her and ignoring her demands. Since we discussed the circular paths through time we’ve taken, she has seemed almost sympathetic.

She must be able to see a bigger picture than we can. Considering how old she must be, the vastness of experience in her consciousness, this would make sense. But it means that her priorities are difficult to predict. We must be little more than insects to a creature as massive and eternal as she is, ones who dared to injure her. And yet, she hasn’t burned us out of the vacuum. Yet.

She’s also showing a particular interest in Starry, asking questions about what makes our ship’s personality so different to the other AIs she has met and why we’re so attached to her. I don’t know if I trust her with the truth about that yet; I don’t know what she would do with the information. She seems to have a particular fondness for humanity and there’s no way to know if she would think of Starry as an abomination, or a tragedy, or simply something new. I don’t want to risk giving her any more reasons to roast us.

She does seem to be a good captain, though. Her crew trusts her, even though she clearly detonated her own ship to get to us. Their escape pod was the least damaged: Kess evacuated them before she initiated the explosion, to try to get them out of harm’s way. Her own pod took the worst of the punishment.

She was willing enough to kill them when she arrived aboard, though they didn’t seem worried by the notion. Her crew – Warren Tolle and Sasha Kaminski – trust her not to waste their lives. They don’t seem damaged or drugged; do they have good reasons for such faith in her?

It’s too early to tell. Dr Valdimir has strict instructions to keep an eye on the pair of them and report any strange behaviour. We’ll see if they really are what they seem.

Right now, Starry should be butting in to make suggestions and tell me what she’s noticed. Or asking questions about my opinion on these things. She was always speaking up when an AI shouldn’t. I miss her chatter. I even miss her violating the privacy locks.

Perhaps I should go see how Monaghan is getting on.

End log.

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6 Responses to “Trusting strangers”

  1. daymon34 Says:

    Starry being quite would be quite sad, she was always talking to someone. And even the poor drones are probably acting up or not funcinal anymore.

    I wonder how Kess will react when she learns the truth about Starry. Killing people is one thing, forcing them to become part of a computer is another. And this will be the second time she has burned poor Starry’s brain. The first time as Danika when she was pulled into the machine.

    At least being towed closer to dock means parts might be easier to come by if need be. Swearing up a storm, Elliott probably created some new swears while everything was melting and shutting down.

  2. Medic Says:

    Glad it’s only the hardware. Poor Starry is gunna have one heck of a headache when she “wakes up.” All those new parts in her head.

    Kess, is the source of life for the entire Sol system. She strikes me as the type to see the whole picture. Not just the big parts, but the little ones that create the big one.

    Not sure what to make of the loyalty of her crew yet either. Long time friends? Avatars of other Entities? Can’t wait to see what happens next.

  3. Antonious Says:

    An ouroboros logic bomb is going to be extremely difficult to recover from. I cannot imagine what it will take to keep Starry from going back into the tail chase logic loop. With an inorganic AI programming would handle it. Starry on the other hand has worried her way past so many programmed blocks in the past that I have little faith in them. Something more “organic” in reasoning is needed. Something along the lines of “It happened, end subject, move on.”

  4. mjkj Says:

    Well, I think Starry should be able to stop a loop like this with her human brain part (Danika) without frying her processors. Though she did not. So I hope Eliot’s safety protocols that he is installing will prevent that in the future.

    I also miss Starry – I hope she will be back soon. (And hopefully that will only be remembered as a bad dream…)


  5. Francisco Says:

    The more I think about it the more I wonder if Kess knows Starry herself: She approved of the Captain taking time to look after the person in the ship. Since catching up with the story last night, three questions have been rattling round my brain: How did the star learn how to make an avatar? Why does that avatar look human? Where did that star learn to speak English?

    The answer to all those questions seems to me to be that Starwalker is going to make one last step and that would be into the past. I strongly suspect that Kess and Starry are going to become friends.

  6. Francisco Says:

    Actually, initially I suspect the relationship will be more of a teacher/student relation (with Starry as the teacher). Depending on how fast a learner the star is (Kess won’t be formed until she learns those new skills) they’ll probably become friends as well.