Ship's log, 16:32, 26 May 2214 Location: Alpha Centauri to Beta Apodis FTL corridor Status: Sublight transit
Coming out of another FTL jump, I feel like my hull is humming. Elliott keeps griping about stress fractures, even though we haven’t found any yet. Bit and Byte have been scouring my bulkheads and beams, just in case.
It seems unlikely now, though. We’ve done seventeen FTL jumps since we fixed Corsica Sol up and I’m still running okay. It’ll be a couple of hours before I can jump again; here’s hoping that eighteen isn’t the magic number.
We’ve got a lot of jumping ahead of us. I can’t help but itch at the route: I have to hop-skim-hop my way along the main FTL corridor into the Apus constellation: Alpha Centauri to Beta Apodis. From there, I’ll branch off to Alpha Apodis, so we can fix up that star. I have a more direct path at my disposal but that’s not an option any more: no more Stepping for us. I’m making do with plain old FTL.
Our chances of coming across the pirate fleet seem high now we’re moving into the systems bearing Apus’s brightest stars: this is their ‘home’ area, where their base is rumoured to travel between star systems, always on the move. It would be a huge coincidence to come across them: space is vast. Apus has a number of stars they could be near, or between, or travelling to. My calculations tell me the odds are very low but I still feel antsy.
No point worrying about it now; it’ll happen or it won’t and there isn’t much we can do to avoid it. My refit is almost complete, so I’m as ready for a confrontation as I’ll ever be. I have extra lasers, a few extra missile silos, the new repulsors, and now a weird pellet-gun built into my belly.
Elliott was grumpy over that last thing. He spent days building the housing for it and insisted on installing it personally. He stood out on my hull for hours, working on it with great care. I’ve never seen him handle something so precisely before.
I don’t like it either. It’s a blank, numb spot on my abdomen. The device isn’t hooked directly into my central systems: the closest I get is the hull panel that covers it when it’s not in use. I can access its systems wirelessly but it still feels weird. It’s like a part of my body that’s not quite connected.
It’s the one weapon we haven’t tested yet. We only have a handful of pellets for it and we can’t afford to waste them. It’s going to be a ‘hot test’, as my Chief SecOff calls it. Fire and hope it works. Hope it doesn’t backfire and infect me with millions of weird ship-killing nanobots.
I’m mostly trying not to think about those nanobots, or how I’m going to feel about using them on another ship. I know that other AIs aren’t like me. They’re not part human; they don’t ‘feel’ like I do. They’re not ‘people’ the way I am. That sentence doesn’t make sense, mostly because I don’t make sense. It doesn’t matter: it’s still not going to be an easy thing to use. Luckily, it’s not my call. It won’t be my hand on the button. So I guess my feelings about it will be irrelevant and that’s probably for the best.
I’m trying not to think about what this weapon’s existence means. What if I go up against one? It’s another thing I can’t do anything about, so there’s no point worrying, but I have to keep the possibility in my scenario matrices. I have to build it into my equations if we’re going to have a real chance of getting through this, just in case. I have to make sure my crew can survive even if I’m crawling with ship-brain-eating nanobots, and I can’t think about me or how scared I am.
I’m bristling with weapons inside and out. I have to take comfort from that. Even my drones are getting in on it: they’re all down in Engineering now, crowding up the place as they help Elliott to fit their enhancements. On my mid- and large-sized boys, lasers are positioned on either side of their necks, and tasers have been added to two of their hands, for distance or tactile use. My tiny boys are getting a single centre-mounted laser and needle-sized darts filled with a paralytic.
They’re surprisingly eager about it today. Before we left Alpha Centauri, they seemed reluctant to come down to Engineering and be fitted out. They were always busy with repairs and refit work, and while there was plenty to do, it wasn’t like the time couldn’t have been spared to fix them up. Even now, there’s a list of work longer than my tallest hologram console for them to do, but there they are, lined up around Elliott, waiting their turn.
I think it’s my influence. Maybe this ship-killer is weighing on my calculations enough to make a difference to my boys. Also, I’ve been feeling better about my external defenses now that they’re finished, but I still worry about my crew. Internally, I have few ways to help or protect them. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and I guess my boys picked up on it. They want to help. They want to kick ass, too.
And yet, my boys are still my boys.
(Byte has just had his dart gun installed and is examining the firing tube as if he’s never seen one before. He narrows his visual apertures and peers into the barrel, then squints over at Bit. Bit is patiently awaiting his turn. Elliott’s back is turned while he goes through the case of equipment and ordinance.
In quick succession, Byte fires three needle-darts at his brother, aiming for his feet. Bit skitters and stumbles when a needle pins his foot to the counter. A tiny laser burst back threatens to take Byte’s head off, but the dart-wielding drone ducks.)
ELLIOTT: (turning around at the flash of light, he quickly assesses the pinned drone. His mouth falls open and he swipes at Byte.) Hey, stop that!
BYTE: (skitters out of the way of Elliott’s hand and widens his visual apertures at the engineer. One hand quietly adjusts the aim of the dart-gun, as if he’s testing it innocently.)
ELLIOTT: Don’t give me that. We don’t have an unlimited supply of ordinance for that, you know.
BYTE: (droops his head and drops his hands down by his sides.)
BIT: (pulls the needle out of his foot and throws it at his brother. It bounces off Byte’s bowed head.)
ELLIOTT: (shoots a glare at Bit.)
BIT: (points at his brother.)
ELLIOTT: (sighs) Byte, go pick all those up and see if they can be salvaged. Try not to leave them everywhere, all right? The captain’ll be pissed if he finds his crew randomly paralysed.
STARRY: (materialises behind Elliott’s right shoulder with her hands on her hips) And so will I.
BYTE: (throws his hands up in the air and slouches over to pick up the spent needles.)
BIT: (sidles towards the nearest bulkhead, out of the way.)
ELLIOTT: (rubs the back of his head wearily.)
STARRY: (tilting her head so she can see his face) Everything all right here?
ELLIOTT: Your kids are a handful. I think we need to make them more stupid.
STARRY: (turning to narrow a look at Bit) You know, I’m starting to think that’s a good idea.
BIT: (is facing the wall, his back to Elliott and the avatar. His head swivels around to look at them, then he takes off across the counter, sprinting for the edge.)
ELLIOTT: (leans over the counter to squint at the spot where Bit was standing) …what does that say?
STARRY: (watches the little drone skitter away) It’s probably better if you don’t know. Bit, you can’t hide from me, you know.
ELLIOTT: (snorts and lifts his left arm so he can activate the interface implanted in it. He pulls up a magnified view of the bulkhead and the symbols Bit just lasered into the metal. It’s a little heart, and inside it there’s a carefully-scribed ‘S + EM’. The pointy half of an arrow comes out of one side of the heart, but the drone was disturbed before he could finish the feathered part.) Is that…
STARRY: Um, yeah. (She glances sideways at Elliott.) On the plus side, his aim’s pretty good with that laser.
ELLIOTT: Yeah, it’s great that his grafitti is neat. (He meets her gaze, then can’t help but grin. A moment later, both of them start laughing.)
BYTE: (stomps his tiny feet as he stalks off to put his spent darts away in the open box on the end of the counter.)
STARRY: (laughter subsiding) I think I’m gonna have them set up a testing range in Cargo Bay 4, before we have any more weapons going off in here.
ELLIOTT: And what about Bit?
STARRY: Oh, he’s going to be on sewer-pipe duty. You might not want to let him on your pillow for a couple of days.
ELLIOTT: (puzzled) On my pillow?
STARRY: Oh. Yeah, don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.
ELLIOTT: (shakes his head) I’m tellin’ ya: stupid is good.
STARRY: (laughs and disappears.)
Elliott’s usually asleep when Bit climbs onto his pillow. The better to monitor my engineer’s vital signs: that’s how the drone’s processing justifies it. Never mind that he pats Elliott’s hair before he bustles off again. Silly little thing.
Sometimes I despair about my boys. They’re so wilful! But I wouldn’t have them any other way.
That’s the first time I’ve seen Elliott laugh in a while. He’s so serious these days, intent in his work, worrying about me, about doing a good job, about making sure we can protect ourselves and be safe. It’s as if the weight of the whole ship is on him. I know how important his work is and how much we all rely on him to keep me running and in one piece, but I wish that he didn’t feel all that pressure.
The last time he came inside my systems, we barely had time to hug. He doesn’t like talking about emotional stuff, so I try not to ask if he’s all right. I hug him instead. He doesn’t lean on me so much these days, though; his hugs are tight, fierce, and short. I like to think they help anyway. His bio-rhythms were less stressed after that last time.
It’s not just Elliott; my whole crew is feeling the approach of our return to Feras. The captain is going over simulation after simulation with Cameron. Cirilli is intent and brittle, like glass. Even Rosie is starting to frown at the notion of handling all of my weaponry at once, and she usually relishes the idea of a battle.
I wish I could take the pressure off all of them. Ease their worries. But maybe this is good. Maybe this is us getting ready for war.
Maybe this is us being ready for war, ‘bots and all.