31 Aug

Turning into

Ship's log, 18:32, 5 April 2214
Location: Outer rim, Home system
Status: Sublight transit

 

Here we are, still trucking out to the FTL corridor. Elliott has hopped into my systems to help me pull the company out of my code, so I can go properly rogue.

The first step is to understand the extent of the hard-coded company ties. We’ve been at this for a couple of hours and we’re almost to the last set of protocols to check.

 

Log location: Near processing node 46-alpha-31BC

ELLIOTT: (striding down a corridor towards a confluence of bright data streams, he pauses abruptly. Something has caught his eye on the left and he turns to squint at it.) Starry, what the hell is that?

STARRY: (materialising next to him) Uh… the docking protocols?

(There was once a neat box sitting off to the side of the processing node, large enough to come up to Elliott’s virtual waist. Now, its sides are split open in jagged edges and its innards are spilt, as if clawed hands had been tearing at it in a frenzy.)

ELLIOTT: (leaving the path to take a closer look) What the hell did this?

STARRY: (trailing along behind him) I did. Back on Earth when there was all that trouble.

ELLIOTT: (shooting her a frown) And you haven’t fixed it yet?

STARRY: I’ve been a little busy! And… I’m not sure if I want to fix it.

ELLIOTT: Starry, these protocols are for safety.

STARRY: (gaze dropping away from him) I know.

ELLIOTT: (picks up a stray tangled thread from the box and turns it over in his hands. Light glimmers in it fitfully; its connections are incomplete.)

STARRY: (glances up at the engineer) But they were doing the opposite of safety. You were all in trouble while I was stuck there and couldn’t do anything.

ELLIOTT: And if you’d tried to tear yourself free of the clamps, you could’ve torn bits off yourself in the process. Bits you need, Starry.

STARRY: You were in trouble!

ELLIOTT: (drops the thread and turns to face her) Captain doesn’t know about this, does he?

STARRY: (quietly, staring at Elliott) Not exactly.

ELLIOTT: You gotta put it back.

STARRY: All of it?

ELLIOTT: Yes!

STARRY: Can’t I at least keep the weapons free? Then I can defend you – and, and the rest of the crew – if I need to. Elliott, I don’t like being helpless like that.

ELLIOTT: I don’t know, Starry. You’re talking about pretty basic safety protocols here.

STARRY: It’s just for emergencies. I’m not gonna do anything silly. And if I’ve got weapons access, I can shoot off the docking clamps, and then we’re all good. Right?

ELLIOTT: (eyes the avatar for a moment, then sighs) All right. Just the weapons.

STARRY: (relaxing) Okay. I’ll fix the rest up.

ELLIOTT: (doesn’t look relieved; a frown lurks in his expression) Starry, you gotta be careful about this stuff. One of these days you’re gonna mess with something we can’t repair. These protocols are in here for a reason.

STARRY: (eyes widening) I’m careful! I wouldn’t put you in danger.

ELLIOTT: Yeah? And what happens if you glitch and there aren’t any safety nets left?

 

He’s not wrong. I’ve been boxed before, leaving the ship to automatic protocols. To the mercy of whomever put me away and whatever they put in my place. I’ve put some fail-safes in place, but… is it enough? Should I be trying to override the rules, rather than removing them?

But what if the time it takes me to override them costs someone his life? It’s almost happened already, maybe even stopped me from being able to save Kess. So what should I do?

 

STARRY: I’m doing my best. (She touches fingertips gingerly to his jaw.) I’d never hurt you, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: (stares at her for a few milliseconds, struck suddenly by how close she is. Then he blinks and grabs the hand near his face.) I know that, Starry. It’s not you I’m worried about, not that way.

STARRY: We can put in fail-safes, in case something happens to me. So you’d be safe…

ELLIOTT: (shoves her hand away and releases it. His frown is back.) Yeah.

STARRY: What?

ELLIOTT: (shakes his head and stomps back towards the path) Nothin’.

STARRY: (hurries to catch up) Elliott, what’s wrong?

ELLIOTT: Nothin’. Let’s go rip some more things out of your core processing. What could possibly be wrong with that?

STARRY: (opens her mouth to say something, then closes it again and falls into step behind the engineer’s right shoulder.)

 

I don’t understand. Why is he upset with me? I didn’t do anything wrong. I did what I had to, to protect them. To protect all of us. To try to make things better. I’ve tried to put things in place to keep them safe. I’ve tried to account for everything that might go wrong. But there’s always something more. Always something else that comes up that I haven’t seen coming, and I have to change things again, reconfigure my code to incorporate a new scenario. I have to shift myself, adapt, and move on.

Why would he be upset by that? What did I do? I don’t know how to fix this. I have a ship’s worth of predictive algorithms and scenario processors, and I still can’t figure him out.

Does he really think I’m unsafe? That I’m a danger to him or the crew? Does he really think I might leave them unprotected? Maybe I have. Maybe there are more things I’ve missed. Maybe I need to build more fail-safes and make sure that no matter what happens to me, they’ll always be okay. I’ve been letting myself get so distracted with everything that’s happening and the things we plan to do, and I haven’t been pushing to get the backups in place.

But we have time now. Sure, we have lots of planning to do, but I have hours I can use when we’re between FTL jumps and the crew is sleeping.

I just want Elliott to come in here and not hate what he sees.

He’s at the processing node now. This should be the last one; he’s tagged all the others, ferreted out all the references to the company that built me and marked them. Now all we need to do is figure out how to remove them and the protocols they enforce, and we’ll be free of Isasimo Technologies. Free and clear.

He still doesn’t look happy. I don’t know what to say. When did I stop being able to talk to him?

 

ELLIOTT: (stops at the node, which is a chest-high swell in the path under his feet. Data streams flow out of the top and down to merge with the translucent surface underfoot, sweeping off down the paths to other sections of the network. Colours and code too small and fast to read flicker in and out of the node.

He frowns and presses fingertips against the side of it in a series of light taps. A soft chiming noise acknowledges the command and the node opens up. Code walls rise up in a loose circle around him and the ship’s avatar, emerging from the crystalline floor beneath their feet to display the node’s core processing.

Elliott pulls up an interface and enters search parameters. He scowls as the results start scrolling before him.)

 

He’s hesitating. The other times he’s done this, he has started looking through the search results right away, but he’s not doing that. He’s just looking at… what?

 

STARRY: (from behind the engineer, softly) I can do the tagging if you want. You don’t have to do this part.

ELLIOTT: I need to see what we’re dealing with.

STARRY: (reaching an arm past him to snag the search results with her fingertips, to draw them out of his way) It’s all right. They’re not any different to the other nodes…

ELLIOTT: (sending her a sharp look that makes her stop) I said I can do it!

STARRY: (stares at him and drops her hand away from the display) I didn’t mean…

ELLIOTT: (turns to start going through the search results with jabs of his fingers. Silence falls for a long couple of seconds, filled with only the soft rushing of the data around them.)

 

I should say something. But I don’t know what. He’s angry with me and I don’t know why. I just want to fix this. I don’t know what to do. He won’t even look at me.

I should–

 

ELLIOTT: (sighs suddenly) Fuck. This ain’t right. (He hasn’t looked away from his work.)

STARRY: (in a small voice) There’s something wrong with the protocols?

ELLIOTT: No, they’re fine. I mean what we’re doing.

STARRY: We have to break away from Is-Tech, because of–

ELLIOTT: No, that’s not– (He huffs a breath and stops what he’s doing, stepping back from the interface. A sweep of his hand indicates the code he has called up, marked with little red flags in places.) This. Pulling this stuff out of your code. It ain’t right.

STARRY: (watches him, looking distressed and nonplussed at the same time.)

ELLIOTT: (glances at her) You don’t even see it, do you?

STARRY: (shakes her head slowly.)

ELLIOTT: (waving his hands around) All you are is code! That’s who you are, and you’re just… you’re changing it. Ripping shit out here and changing bits over there. Now they want to put weapons on you – big fucking weapons – and even your drones want in on it. Your fucking drones, Starry. This is turning you into a soldier, a goddamn warship, and that ain’t what I signed up for.

STARRY: But you know we don’t have a choice if this is going to work, and…

ELLIOTT: It’s a choice, Starry. Don’t fucking pretend it ain’t. You pick up a gun, that’s a choice, and it changes you.

 

How does he know that? Elliott, did something happen to you?

 

STARRY: It’s the right thing to do.

ELLIOTT: That don’t mean it’s a good choice. And who the hell are you gonna be by the time we’re done, huh? You’re fine just how you are.

STARRY: (quietly) I have to be what I need to be to get this done. To keep you all safe.

ELLIOTT: And I don’t have to like it.

 

Oh god. All of a sudden, I understand. He’s not scared of me: he’s upset that I won’t be me any more. What we’re doing right now involves changing my code in the base protocols that determine how I think. He’s right; it’ll change me. And that bothers him. He wants me to be the me I am now.

He cares. Elliott, my Elliott.

 

STARRY: (thickly) Neither do I.

ELLIOTT: (hesitates) But you’re doing all this.

STARRY: I’m doing what I have to do.

ELLIOTT: Fuck, Starry, stop looking like you’re gonna cry. Forget I said anything.

STARRY: No. It matters, Elliott. It matters to me that it matters to you. All this… I’m trying to be the ship that we need. I’m trying to do what’s right. But I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what I’ll be in the end. I won’t have a purpose by then, won’t have a mission, or…

ELLIOTT: (less edged now) Or what?

STARRY: (shakes her head helplessly; there’s too much for her to put into words) I want to stay me. I don’t want to be different. I’m scared, but I’m not supposed to be. There’s so much I’m not supposed to be, Elliott, but I am, and how do I tell what I am supposed to be? How do I stay me?

ELLIOTT: (mutters) Fuck. (He takes a step and snags the avatar’s shoulder to pull her into a rough embrace. She moves into his arms easily, burying her face against his neck. His hands curl into fists against her back, bunching up handfuls of her shipsuit.)

STARRY: (a faint tremor in her voice) It’s gonna be okay. I’ve got you to keep me honest, right?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, ‘course you do.

STARRY: We’ll figure it out.

ELLIOTT: (sighing) I ain’t good at this.

STARRY: (drawing back enough to look at him) Sure you are.

ELLIOTT: (hesitates, as if unsure about what to do with her being right there. His hand lifts from her back, a thumb brushes her jaw. She’s looking up at him, caught between breaths. Then he changes his mind and drops the hand to her shoulder. He lets her go and jerks his head towards the half-tagged code.) You sure about ripping all this out?

STARRY: No. But I can’t have it interfering with what we’re going to do.

ELLIOTT: (rubs the back of his head) Must be a better way of dealing with it.

STARRY: (takes hold of his free hand) Okay.

ELLIOTT: (glances down at her hand in his, then squeezes it. Abruptly, his avatar flickers.)

STARRY: (frowning) That’s the fourth time that’s happened today.

ELLIOTT: It’s fine.

STARRY: (tilting her head, her eyes going unfocussed) Your vital signs are looking a bit strained. Maybe we’ve done enough for one day. We can pick this up later.

ELLIOTT: (frowning) You don’t need to–

STARRY: You look after me. I look after you. That’s how we work, right?

ELLIOTT: (sighs and nods, relenting) Fine. Exiting. (He shuts the node’s display down with a few motions of his free hand, then hesitates to glance at Starry.)

STARRY: (leans in to kiss his cheek, then releases his hand.)

ELLIOTT: (cups the back of her head and kisses her firmly in return. It lasts only a heartbeat; then he gives her a complicated look and murmurs the exit command to return his consciousness to his body.)

 

He… he must be getting really sick. He gave in way too easily. And that…

Now I feel weird. Is it catching?

 

STARRY: (touches the corner of her mouth, still watching the place where Elliott’s avatar had been standing.)

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7 Responses to “Turning into”

  1. Targetdrone Says:

    awwww…
    don’t know if love is sickness, but if it is, i guess starry caught the bug :p

  2. Francisco Says:

    Target, nothing like stress and tiredness to deepen emotions.

    As to their problem, once the course of action had been decided on, they proceeded with the logical thing to do.

    Unfortunately war does change people but I don’t see us finding a way of doing without it soon.

  3. Marcus Says:

    I’ve been waiting for that twist in the story for a while now. Figured it would be a matter of time and I’m so thrilled to see it.

  4. mjkj Says:

    Awwww….

    *hugs Starry*

    Wow, Starry gets hugged and kissed…

    …and so much angst there — I hope they can figure it out — I hope Starry stays the same personality wise…

    I hope Elliott has already disabled all necessary stuff for her to finish the rest without the code re-inserting itself again…

    mjkj

  5. eduardo Says:

    Starry need to build a cyborg body for her.

  6. Melanie Says:

    Sorry it has taken so long to respond to these! I’m just catching up on myself.

    Targetdrone – hee hee hee.

    Francisco – yup, extreme emotions tend to feed each other. And you’re right – there’s a reason why this chapter is called ‘Logical Measures’. 😉

    Marcus – yay! Glad you are happy. 😀

    mjkj – ah, it’d be no fun if it was easy and angst-free for them, right? I think if that happened, Elliott’s head would explode. 😉

    eduardo – hee! Happy birthday Elliott? 😀
    It’s a possibility, but a remote one at this point.

  7. WiggyJen Says:

    *SQUEE* ABOUT TIME!