08 Sep

Unquiet dead

Ship's log, 02:52, 8 September 2213
Location: JOP
Status: Docked

 

I am officially dead. For Danika, this is the second time, and it’s no more accurate now than it was the first time around. The motions have been gone through, the logs have been doctored and filed, and my decks are missing their hum. All of my systems are offline and I am on life support, an organ donor waiting for surgery, a body waiting for a brain.

It was done the night after we docked without any big speeches or goodbyes, while most of those aboard were asleep. No-one wanted a fuss, least of all me. Some of them were angry when they found out the next morning. Elliott told them all to fuck off with his usual eloquence, rough with the strain. He’s struggling with this more than he would like to admit.

My crew are grim-faced and monosyllabic – they know I might be able to ‘come back’, but as far as they’re aware, that will require a risky procedure that might not work. It’s like trying to resuscitate a human body: there’s lots they can try, but it works far less often than anyone wants to admit and the chance of damage is high.

I want to ease them. I want to tell them that I’m fine, they don’t have to worry. It’s just while we’re here. I don’t want to see them moping around my decks, exchanging unhappy glances. I can’t help but notice how little they’re enjoying this window of shore leave. Even Tyler is restrained; he hasn’t brought partners back to his quarters for sex since we docked.

The captain says it’s necessary. And the logical part of me – which is the biggest part – agrees with him. They need to be able to sell this, and they need deniability. But it hurts my heart. They’re upset because they care about me. I can make it better for them, but I’m choosing not to. I feel like I’m being a bad ship for them. This has been one of the hardest orders to follow.

It’s all more difficult thanks to the Judiciary drone sitting in my cargo bay. It hasn’t moved since it came on board, but I can feel the fingers that it reaches out to me. It is wirelessly tapping into my systems, spreading its little feet on my decking and pressing into the datastreams passing through the walls around it, all without moving a metal millimetre. It chose the corner it’s squatting in because there’s a major network junction behind it, not because it’s out of the way.

Everyone is feeling the pressure of its eyeless watching. My crew step carefully through the cargo bay and airlock. No-one likes to feel they’re being monitored, and I’m under the most scrutiny of all.

It has meant that faking my death is more real than I’d like. I have to keep my internal chatter to a realistic level, which means nothing at all from me. I’m gone and the Judiciary has to believe that. I have cut off all my controls to the ship; I can receive sensor data just fine but I haven’t been able to talk to anyone. My systems are all shut down and my core is masked, so that a scan will reveal no activity there at all. The firewalls that hid Danika’s braincopy the first time around have come in handy, hiding all of me this time. I am crouching and hoping that I haven’t let a foot or an elbow poke out from behind the curtain.

Elliott is taking the opportunity to clean up the last of Tripi’s mess. He has reinstalled and reinitialised most of my systems; by the time he gets to initiallising the ‘new’ AI, it’ll be like it was when I woke up.

I suppose he must have been the one to initialise me that first time, too. Haven’t thought about that before. Does that make him my father? That doesn’t feel right. No, it’s too weird.

He’s stomping around my decks right now. The propulsion protocols are being reinstalled, ticking through their checks and re-checks, and he is impatiently waiting for it to be finished. If he hadn’t sent all of my drones outside to reapply the heat-reflective paint to my hull, he’d probably be kicking one of them.

I can’t give them orders, so they’re going to Elliott like lost dogs when they run out of things to do. It’s like having my hands taken away, and of course, that’s when I get an itch. Like when you’re all cuddled up with a cute boy, too tangled to scratch your nose – that’s when you suddenly really need to. This is much less fun than that, though; I have no boy to cuddle up to.

It’s all taking much longer than we had anticipated. Tripi’s sabotage damaged so much and pulling it up by the roots tore out all the wrong chunks. Elliott is having to go right back to factory defaults, which is a lengthy procedure. I’m going to have to recalibrate everything once we get away from the JOP.

There’s just the weapons and inertial dampening systems left to do, and then he can ‘reinstall’ the AI. I’ve got my logs and protocoled responses all lined up. Then all I have to do is remember to respond like a cold AI. I suspect that sounds easier than it actually is; silence is easier than controlling what words come out.

Like when the company lawyer arrived. I was so glad that I couldn’t say anything, otherwise I might have said something we all regret. He’s lucky that I couldn’t talk to my drones, too.

He turned up the day after we docked, swanning up the docking bridge like he owned me. He patted the airlock seals as he stepped inside – without asking or being invited in – and the only reason the captain found him there was because the lawyer decided to poke around the crates sitting in my cargo bay. He’s all smiles and teeth. Shark Sten, I call him (to myself and this log, because no-one else can hear me right now).

 

Recording: 10:14, 2 September 2213

SHARK STEN: (holding his hand out to the captain with a liquid smile) Marle Sten.

CAPTAIN: This is a private ship. How did you get on board?

STEN: (waves the extended hand in the air, the back of it turned towards the captain to indicate the implant under his skin) Company ID. I’m from Is-Tech, your assigned lawyer. Didn’t they tell you I was coming?

CAPT: No, they didn’t.

STEN: Well, here I am! Don’t you worry about anything, I’ll get this nasty business with the little SecOff bitch out of your way before you know it.

CAPT: Good to know. What did you need?

STEN: (starts towards the corridor leading forward) Perhaps if we could go to the bridge–

CAPT: (stepping in Sten’s way) This ship is restricted and undergoing repairs. It’s not appropriate.

STEN: (blinks, his smile wavering for just a second) Well, we can’t very well discuss it here. (His head inclines towards the Judiciary drone squatting in the corner.) Is there somewhere else…?

CAPT: (suppresses a sigh) Come to my cabin.

STEN: (manages to stretch his mouth wider and eyes the captain briefly) Oh, that’ll do, definitely.

They were in there for a couple of hours. From the worn look on the captain’s face when he finally showed Shark Sten off my decks, it wasn’t a fun couple of hours. Even the lawyer’s toothy smile was faded, but only a little. My bulkheads are too thick for shouting to penetrate them, but sometimes all that tension escapes when the door opens afterwards. I can taste it in my slowly circulating air.

Since then, Sten returns a few times a day, but he hasn’t put a foot on board. He comes with a Judiciary companion, a rippling grey suit pinned in place by a tie, standing next to the solid red-marked armour. They ask for someone and wait until the appropriate crewmember appears. Then they go away for a few hours. Interviews and cross-examinations. Picking apart the story of everything that happened on my first voyage. If I had nails, they’d be bitten down while I wondered what was being said in those sessions.

No-one came back looking happy, though Rosie and Dr Maletz both came back drunk after their interviews. The crew discussions are non-committal; no-one is sure what the Judiciary is making of it all. The captain has debriefed everyone who has returned in the privacy of his cabin, which means that I haven’t been able to keep tabs on what’s happening. Stupid privacy locks. I’d violate them if I wasn’t supposed to be dead.

From what little I can tell, Rosie blew up in her interview, and Elliott lost his cool as well. Those were to be expected; both of those two are easy to provoke. Elliott wasn’t taken into custody, so he stuck with offensive language rather than behaviour. He was quiet for the next two hours, pacing and moving things, then gave up and turned to the bottle of liquor he keeps in a cupboard. He drank so much that he threw up and passed out, unfortunately without moving in between. I couldn’t do anything. I scratched at the back of my speakers, but I couldn’t talk to him. I have no way to reach out any more.

Tyler was unphased after his interview; it was hard to tell he’d been to anything official or upsetting when he returned. He’s a better liar than I gave him credit for.

Levi was solemn and more thoughtful than I’d seen him before. Whatever the Judiciary said to him, something sunk in pretty deep. I didn’t think he’d been that affected by Tripi’s sabotage, but something nudged him where he lives.

Maletz was covering more obviously, though I’m not sure what part of this business upsets him. When he returned from his interview, he seemed more interested in the entertainment programs he had managed to pick up on the way back (between bars). He passed out before he could plug in, though, and didn’t even make it all the way onto his bed. He spent the next morning administering muscle repair shots to himself and grumbling that he was too old to sleep on floors.

The science contingent were mostly feeling put out by the Judiciary process. They were annoyed at the questions relating to the project – which they have steadfastly refused to answer. Lang Lang seemed the most worried when she got back on board, though I suspect that’s because the legal system bewilders and intimidates her. It took her a couple of days to shake the wide-eyed bunny look that the Judiciary had managed to instill in her.

Cameron and the captain were the last to be interviewed. Neither was giving much away when they returned. They exchanged notes and grim looks, but no words. I wanted to shake them, demand to know what had happened. It’s like they’re purposely torturing me by not talking about it.

There isn’t even any news on the network about it. Is-Tech stepped in early with the Judiciary – with Shark Sten to grease the appropriate processes – and had the whole thing classified, because it involved intellectual property and corporate confidentiality. I overheard a snippet of the captain warning Dr Cirilli that Shark Sten wants to know about the project and not to tell him anything. He doesn’t need to know what I have hidden in my hull to deal with a saboteur case.

I wonder who might have put a lawyer up for Tripi, or if she’s had to hire her own. Maybe she doesn’t think she needs one. She didn’t seem worried when the Judiciary picked her up. Were we able to give them enough to convict her? Even Chief Cameron isn’t sure, and rumour is that she used to be involved with the Judiciary. Or involved with a member of the Judiciary; it wasn’t clear. Either way, she’s SecOff and obliged to know the law.

They’re all asleep right now. The only person other than Elliott awake is Tyler, and whatever he’s doing, it’s very private. I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to know. Elliott is muttering grumpily. He keeps rubbing a spot on the base of his skull, where his neural implant lies under his skin. It’s a habit he picked up after the incident with Tripi – I checked the sensor logs, and he didn’t do that before. He itches too, in a way he can’t scratch.

I know, Elliott. I worry too. About her being set free. About all of this tumbling down around us. About it happening again.

Talking wouldn’t achieve anything productive, but it would make us feel less alone. Like frogs in a dark swamp, popping in the hopes that someone will pop back. Voices connect us even when the words mean nothing.

I can’t wait to get mine back.

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6 Responses to “Unquiet dead”

  1. David Says:

    Where have all the comments gone?

    I can’t wait for the next log entry…

  2. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, David! I don’t know why there have been so few comments lately, but it’s great to hear from you.

    New entry soon!

  3. Belial666 Says:

    Maybe they are quiet undead instead of unquiet dead?

  4. Melanie Says:

    That’s a troubling thought! I have a zombie ship now? Uh oh!

  5. Belial666 Says:

    I was referring to the comments. πŸ™‚

  6. Melanie Says:

    Hee! Now that really is scary! πŸ˜€