24 Sep

Violation in flight

Ship's log, 15:07, 24 September 2213
Location: JOP
Status: Docked

 

I wish I could swear. Power up my speakers and fill my corridors with it, violent explosions of noise that express exactly how I feel right now.

For a moment during that talk between the captain and Shark Sten, I thought John would walk around his desk and flatten the guy. I hoped he would. I was disappointed when the lawyer scuttled off my decks without a scratch on him. When he tried to come back the next day, I tried not to sound too smug when he was only allowed inside the airlock’s arms to talk to the captain.

That’s the hardest part of all of this: pretending that I don’t care. Maintaining that bland AI voice, being calm and measured no matter what’s going on. It’s freaking Elliott out and it’s driving me crazy.

So many reasons to get out of here. So many, and none of them good.

I have to admit to being a little relieved, though. After Sten and Cirilli’s revelation to the captain, my first thought was: at least it’s not just me. At least I’m not the only thing that’s broken and wrong inside this hull, and needs to be hidden from all that is right and straight and true in our world. Is there anything about me that works the way it’s supposed to? The way the law and government and society thinks it should?

I suppose that explains why I haven’t been to Feras, to the home of Is-Tech, my company, my far-away masters. They want as little of me as possible to be traced back there; if I never visit there, they can claim that they didn’t know about the content of Cirilli’s research. They can claim that her team built the Star Step drive without their knowledge. Deniability. They probably have the cover stories set up already. They want to be able to disown me cleanly.

When I think about it, I can taste rust in my ducts. I don’t have anything on board capable of rusting, but it’s there: a faint tang of metallic blood at the back of my throat.

Then the captain took the whole thing to the crew. He spilled the truth about the drive that’s nailed into my guts and stitched into my skin. He gave them a choice: stick with the project, knowing what might happen, or leave now and don’t look back. They’d be paid for their work so far; all he asked was for a chance to get clear before they told anyone, if their consciences dictated that they should.

I had to strain not to hum with tension while they digested the news. I remembered what nerves were like, balling up in the throat I don’t have any more, prickling at the insides of my eyes. I had all the sensors turned up so high that the slightest shuffle of fabric against skin was deafening, but I was still afraid of missing something.

Then they all started talking at once, asking questions, exclaiming, looking at each other. I– it’s probably easier if I just put the log in.

 

Recording; 20:43, 22 September 2213

ROSIE: …don’t fucking believe it.

TYLER: (shakes his head) Typical company tactics.

LEVI: They thought they’d get away with it?

EBLING: Can’t believe you just blew this open.

DR MALETZ: (looking at Rosie) You thought messing around with reality like this was sanctioned?

ROSIE: I don’t expect it to be my problem!

CAMERON: (watches the room with an unchanging expression.)

ELLIOTT: I don’t care. I’m not goin’ anywhere.

WONG: We’re so screwed.

LANG LANG: But we’ll get permission – it’s just paperwork, isn’t it?

LEVI: If the Judiciary finds out, we’re gonna get nothing.

ROSIE: I’m more worried about the interrogations. And Starry’ll be impounded.

TYLER: Probably dismantled, too.

CAPTAIN: (lets them vent, then looks to his Chief of Security) Gail, what’s your opinion?

CAMERON: What was Is-Tech’s plan with this? They have to get it sanctioned if they’re going to make any money out of it.

CAPT: (looks to Cirilli, who has been silent so far as she stands unhappily by a rear wall) Well?

DR CIRILLI: (stiffly) They’re in the process of obtaining the appropriate licences. This project is still in its infancy; we’re not anywhere near completing the research required to establish viability, let alone commercialise it. It wasn’t supposed to become an issue this early.

CAMERON: So they were banking on having the permissions in place before the first units rolled off the assembly line. That’s the crux of it?

CIRILLI: Yes.

CAMERON: (looks at the rest of the crew) That hasn’t changed.

CAPT: (nods) The question is whether you are willing to accept that and continue with the project under those conditions.

ELLIOTT: I already said I’m not going anywhere.

CAPT: And the rest of you?

ROSIE: (turns to Elliott) You’re gonna be able to get Starry back up?

ELLIOTT: (blinks with surprise when all eyes turn to him. His arms unfold.) Uh, yeah. Yeah, I will. She’ll be back before you know it.

ROSIE: (to the captain) Then I’m staying.

TYLER: (shrugs elegantly) Count me in, too. Hate to miss out on a ride this interesting.

LEVI: As long as the money’s still good, I’m game.

MALETZ: I’ve done worse things. How many people get to see the universe from the outside? I’ll stay.

TYLER: (looks sideways at Maletz, who replies with a smile.)

CAMERON: (smiles grimly but with a trace of relief) You’re going to need me.

CAPT: You’re not wrong. I’m going to need all of you.

And that was it. They’re all staying, every one of them. Some of them because life is never dull aboard the Starwalker, and some because they don’t want to leave. They all had their reasons for coming onto this project and those reasons haven’t changed. I don’t think any of them are particularly comfortable with how things are turning out, but they’re not leaving. They’re not leaving me.

Rosie surprised me; I never expected to matter to her so much. I wonder how much what she said influenced the others. They’ve all defended me before. I think they might even be fond of me a little bit.

I’d hug them if I could, even Dr Maletz.

So now I’m waiting for word from Sten to say that I can leave with my crew. He promised that he’d sort it out. The only thing left to figure out is what we’re going to do with the Judiciary drone. It’s sitting in the corner of my cargo bay like part of my furniture, a shiny nubbin of trouble. The captain hasn’t talked about it and I can’t mention it, not without giving myself or the plan away. I’m supposed to be just a normal AI.

I don’t know how crews cope with AIs this stupid.

Hm, a message squirt just came in, locked tight and marked for the captain. Those looks like Is-Tech code-seals, which means–

 

CAPT: (in his cabin) Starwalker, is everyone aboard?

STARWALKER: Yes, sir.

CAPT: Prepare for immediate departure.

SW: Aye aye, captain.

 

Dammit, AIs are so restricted. I hate this. Let’s try something else.

 

SW: Should I wait to secure the airlocks until the Judiciary comes to collect their drone, sir?

CAPT: (swears softly) Get one of the big drones to the cargo bay. I’m on my way.

SW: Drone on the way, sir.

 

Okay, that worked. Big Ass is trundling to the cargo bay. Must stop him flexing his hands like he wants to tear the Judiciary drone into pieces. Behave, big fella, or you’ll be on external hull repairs while we’re bouncing through FTL.

 

CAPT: (in the cargo bay, loudly, to the Judiciary drone) We have been given permission to depart. You are no longer required on board.

JUDICIARY DRONE: (doesn’t respond.)

CAPT: You don’t have jurisdiction here. You are ordered to exit the ship immediately.

J.D.: (still doesn’t respond to the captain, though its wireless communications array is active. A little green light blinks on the rim of its domed head.)

CAPT: (gesturing to Big Ass) Drone, pick up this thing and take it off the ship.

BIG ASS: (trundles forward, all four hands reaching out.)

J.D.: (whirrs and extends it legs, lifting itself up from the floor.)

CAPT: Drone, stop.

BIG ASS: (stops and lowers its hands, shoulders slumping.)

JD: (teeters forward a couple of steps, and then spider-walks sideways so that it can go around the captain and skitter towards the airlock.)

CAPT: (steps to the side and turns to watch it go) Starwalker, as soon as it’s clear, initiate undocking.

SW: Aye aye, captain.

BIG ASS: (watches the Judiciary drone go, fingers tapping lightly. The doors hiss closed behind it.)

SW: Airlocks sealed and secure, sir.

CAPT: (nods and heads towards the Bridge.)

 

This is it. This is our break for freedom. Sten, I hope you did everything you said you could, even if you are a shark. I hope the Judiciary understands, as faceless and impassive as they are.

 

External communications activated.

 

SW: Jumping-Off Platform, this is the Starwalker, requesting permission to depart.

JOP: Request approved. Starting undocking procedures.

 

Umbilicals deactivated.
Umbilicals disconnected.
Ports closing.

 

There they go, the tentacles unfurling. Suckers coming free from my skin and retracting. They’re taking their time; I’d hurry them if I could, but instead, I must wait. Tap fingers I don’t have.

 

Docking seal deactivated.
Docking bridge detatched.

 

There goes the chance of anyone accessing me from the JOP – the tunnel is retreating into the centre of its bullseye. I’m not sorry to see it go.

 

Docking clamps released.
Manoeuvring thrusters enabled.
Sublight engines enabled.
FTL engines enabled.
Weapons systems enabled.

 

JOP: Undocking complete. Good luck, Starwalker.

SW: You too, JOP.

 

I’m free! The octopus has released me and I can scurry out into clear water now. Gently at first – I don’t want to scorch the JOP in my eagerness to get away. In fact, I should plot a sedate course away from it, so they don’t know I’m running.

But I am. I’m running. I have my crew aboard and a belly full of violations. I have no idea where I’ll be able to dock next, but I don’t care.

My crew is with me. I’m free and flying. For now, that’s enough.

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5 Responses to “Violation in flight”

  1. daymon34 Says:

    Yes docking again will be a problem, maybe if the company had a supply ship sent out now and then to fuel them up it would help.

    And Starry can’t wait to let loose a good rant, it’s hard work being a simple AI.

    This one made me chuckle: Must stop him flexing his hands like he wants to tear the Judiciary drone into pieces.

  2. Melanie Says:

    And there’s also a few other colonies that they can visit to restock, if they need to!

    I love the drones. They’re like little expressions of Starry’s subconscious. So much fun!

  3. Belial666 Says:

    Usually, an advanced space vessel should not need any colony to refuel. They could move near a gas giant and skim some hydrogen off the planet’s outer layers. That covers your basic fusion drive. Even if the vessel has more advanced drives such as antimatter-powered ion engines, could have a secondary fusion reactor and still skim off a planet, stay there burning hydrogen until it could build up antimmater stores and then travel.

  4. Melanie Says:

    True. I think they’d run out of organic fuel for the crew before the engines would run out of juice. Even then, some recycling is possible. They were out in the black for months and didn’t have any problems on that side. But eventually they’d have to call in someplace and restock.

  5. Starwalker: Book 1 complete! : : Adventures in Text Says:

    […] After much deliberation, I have decided that last week’s post is the end of Starwalker: Book 1 (ignore the dates, I’m backdating them all at the moment to keep the realtime aspect alive). […]