27 Jul

Where the heart is

Ship's log, 20:51, 13 February 2214
Location: Gienah system, 40 years ago
Status: On approach to Gienah Sol

 

I am off-kilter and so is everyone on board. We’re coming in for our exit from this time and system; the drive is warming up as we approach Step distance. We’re finally getting out of here and none of us know how to feel about it all.

My crew have to use secondary monitoring stations because the Bridge is still closed off, and it’s making them uncomfortable. I have some auxiliary controls available if they want them, but I always pilot us through the whole process, so I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

Elliott’s the only one in familiar surroundings, down in Engineering. Cameron and Rosie are keeping an eye on our prisoners from consoles near Cargo Bay 4. They’re quiet and focussed. Rosie keeps on fingering her favourite gun, as if she’s silently willing a pirate to try something. I’ve cut the cargo bay off from all standard announcements, so they won’t know we’re Stepping, but they might guess when I turn the inertial dampeners off.

Mid-deck is full of people; they’re one short but it still feels cluttered in there. Lang Lang is being unobtrusive in her corner, surrounded by projections of starscapes layered with spatial calculations. Ebling is feeling Cirilli’s presence more than usual; he prefers the freedom of working in a different part of the ship to her. They’ve been sniping at each other on and off since I broke orbit.

 

CIRILLI: (on mid deck, huffing) For once, just once, I’d like to do a competely normal Step.

EBLING: (nodding as he scans over the data on his console, his voice dry) Instead, we have data with no baseline, and an unknown amount of anomalies.

CIRILLI: (glances at him sideways) We still have to capture everything.

EBLING: Of course we do. It’s all being recorded; don’t worry.

CIRILLI: You’ll need to man Ray’s station. Check the calibration, and–

EBLING: I know. I have done this before, you know.

CIRILLI: Not without Ray. None of us have.

EBLING: Are you sure you can’t monitor this from somewhere else? Anywhere else?

CIRILLI: (frowning) The Bridge is closed off. This is the best place.

EBLING: (turning to his console) Of course it is.

 

My boys haven’t been able to fix the Bridge up yet. They’ve been too busy: Waldo and Casper are looking after the injured in Med Bay; Big Ass and Wide Load have been securing the prisoners and scrubbing off the external marks of my occupation; and Bit has been doing something in a duct off Engineering.

I’m not sure what my littlest drone is up to in there; every time I plug into his sensor feed, he’s off hunting parts on Elliott’s counters or poking around in the depths of a pipe. He hasn’t been doing much of his regular maintenance on my internal systems, but I think my dustbunny population has been picking up some of the waste disposal for him. He’s not causing any trouble, so I’m leaving him to it.

With no captain to sit in his place on the Bridge, I don’t feel there’s any need to fix it. What’s the point? I don’t want to repair his seat only to have someone else sit in it. They shouldn’t. They can’t. I don’t have all the right parts anyway; I badly need to restock.

It can wait. It can all wait until I have my captain back.

Elliott’s afraid that I won’t get the chance to have him back. He thinks that Is-Tech will take me away. He’s probably right, though Cirilli said that they wouldn’t want the cost of more delays on the project. Hiring yet another pilot, reinstalling the AI and the pilot’s chair… it’s all more time, more money. If the rumours are true, they can’t afford it. Maybe I’ll be okay. Maybe.

I hadn’t expected her to be the one to defend my position in this ship or as part of her precious project. I thought Cirilli didn’t like me. Too unpredictable, too likely to step outside her carefully-aligned parameters, always messing up her neat stacks of data. Too close to John. I guess she doesn’t want any more delays in her project either.

Going to Feras is worth the risk. We’re in trouble and Is-Tech is the one company in the galaxy who will help us. We’ll be safe at their company colony. It’ll be like going home, even though I’ve never been there before. It’s that one place where you’re always welcome, right? I’ll get all the parts I need, and my injured will be healed, and I’ll have all of my crew back.

But am I the prodigal child? Or the mistake they want to pull apart, to make sure it never happens again? …I think my analogy just went somewhere disturbing. Can’t think that way.

My crew will be safe. I can do that much for them, whatever happens when we get there.

Almost at Step distance. I’m extending the filaments, starting the charging process. It’s becoming rote now, even though Cirilli is still complaining that we haven’t done a ‘normal’ Step. We just haven’t gone from A to B without sliding around in time, that’s all; more like A to B +/- x years.

I’m nervous. I keep going over what I’ll say when I get to Feras. Which is stupid, because it’s all standard transmissions to start with and I have no idea what they’ll ask me after that. Starwalker reporting, requesting permission to dock. Medical and security emergencies on board. Transmit datafiles with the details. Routine, boring.

I mustn’t be too excited or enthusiastic. Mustn’t be too human. AI. Cool, calm. Predictable.

Have I ever been any of those things?

Then we’ll dock and my crew will go off to debrief. They’ll split up to go to medical facilities, security sector and executive offices. Maybe visit their quarters, see old friends. The pirates will be removed from my cargo and medical bays.

And then I’ll be alone. I haven’t thought about it like that before. It’ll just be me and my boys left, waiting for them to decide what to do with me. My crew will defend me, I know they will – Elliott will bring the whole colony down with his favourite wrench if he has to – but will they be able to once they’re off my decks? Faced with the might of Is-Tech, will they be able to do anything?

It’s okay. They’ll be safe. That’s what matters.

And maybe they won’t have to tell the executives about me. Maybe they can get away with just pretending like I’m not here, like we did at the JOP. Maybe the pirates won’t think to say anything about it, too. I could get lucky. Right?

They’ll find out sometime. They have to, to know how we’ve managed to Step without a living pilot. Do they have to know now? It’s too soon; I’m not done yet. I don’t want to be done.

At least I have my name back. With so many people on the lookout for the Starwalker, I wasn’t sure of the wisdom of putting it back on. There was safety in anonymity. But we’re going straight to Feras, so who’s going to see us besides those who want to help us?

Safety wasn’t the only reason I didn’t want Elliott to change my ident back. I remember what it was like the first time. The gaping hole in my centre, like my stomach had been scooped out, leaving me hollow. The failsafes flashing warnings at me, the systems shutting down. Being frozen, nameless and helpless, while human hands changed me on the inside. Holding my breath for hours while the painstaking rewiring was done.

It was as bad as I remember. Not even the adjustments we’ve made to my protocols since then can get around ident hardwiring. I wished that we’d moved into a wider orbit, because I couldn’t adjust our course until the changeout was complete. I was on a steady course but I fretted about the things I couldn’t do anyway. I fretted about everything.

Elliott was right, though: it does feel better to have the right ident wired into the core of me. It’s familiar. Its data winds in with my processes in comforting patterns. I can relax, sigh from inside my proper skin again.

I hadn’t realised how strange the Carapace ident was, like scar tissue stapled into me. It never did fit right; ships really aren’t supposed to have them changed. Now I’m clean and flawless, unmarred by pirate mechanics.

In my distraction of having the ident changed, I lost touch with my two heavy drones. They were mag-clamped to my outer hull, lasering the pirate name off my side when Elliott started the process. We didn’t reconnect until hours later, when they came back inside for more paint supplies. I checked my external sensor feeds and found they were already halfway through putting my proper name back on my sides. Seems they didn’t bother to wait for me to make up my mind.

So now I’m Starwalker inside and out. I’m okay with that. It’s a relief, if I’m honest. I’m me again.

My drones are getting more and more independent. Is this normal? I’m not sure. They still do what I ask them, so I guess I can’t mind too much. It’s nice not being the only independent-minded mech in the region.

Almost time to live up to my name. Walk between stars, as easy as breathing. I’m skimming over the smooth skin of Gienah Sol, filaments almost charged. Coming to a hover at Step distance.

In forty years, Is-Tech will send ships here to try to get me back. They’ll fight pirates for me. I’ll run away because it’s the best thing for me to do at the time. Now I’m running towards them with open wings because it’s best for my crew that way.

This is much easier than last time. No solar flares or gravity burps to dodge; Gienah is much more stable now.

Portal opening. Through I go, into the beautiful Outside. So much light and noise that I hardly know what to look at first. I see myself; I see the Bountiful and the Davey Jones. Explosions. Engines burning tracks across the system. So many pretty patterns…

Focus. Find the Tuncana constellation, and the paths of the Lambda Tuncanae as they wind through the black, spiralling out from their starting point. Focus on Lambda 1, the bright twin stars orbiting the black space between them. Nestled in the emptiness nearby, Feras turns slowly.

There, the primary of the two; that’s the right starpath. Calculations cascade through my central processing, finding just the right spot so that I come out at the right time. Our time; back to now.

I weave the portal into being and Step through. The hole in reality is ragged – the music is still a struggle and a distraction – but I’m back Inside the universe again. The lack of sensory data is like an ice sheen across my hull. It’s quiet here. I’m right on schedule: the Step was fine.

I am proud to get that much right.

There are two burning balls at my back and the cool glint of Feras ahead of me. The planet made entirely out of factory; the factory-made-planet; Is-Tech rolled into a ball in space.

My heart would be in my mouth if I had either of those things. For the first time, I wish that Stepping wasn’t so quick. I wish I had longer to get used to being here.

My makers. My masters. I am home.

 

STARWALKER: (over external comms) Feras flight control, this is the Starwalker, requesting permission to dock.

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8 Responses to “Where the heart is”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow, they got quite independent – I wonder what Bit is up to, is he getting Byte fixed/repaired?
    Are they now acting on a “subconscious” level of Starry? or are they becoming independent? or self-aware?

    I wonder how they will be received at Is-Tech…

    Thank you for the update πŸ™‚

    mjkj

    .
    PS: suspected typos:
    They’re quiet and focussed. => focused

    It’s that once place where you’re always welcome, right? => one place

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    that reception is going to be of some interest πŸ˜‰

    i just hope starry makes it through without too much trouble…

  3. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – with the drones, it’s a little bit of column a, little bit of column b. I was thinking about them a lot last night, after I put the post up, and how their role has grown in the story. I’ll write more about that soon! (probably on my writing blog)

    ‘focussed’ is the British/Australian spelling, but usually interchangeable with ‘focused’. I’m a traditionalist and brought up on British spelling. πŸ˜‰
    ‘once’ -> ‘one’ is a typo. Will fix. Thanks! πŸ™‚

    Targetdrone – ahahahahaha. (That’s all I can say right now!)

  4. Blik Says:

    You know, it’s plain to see that they’ll want to study Starwalker, they’ll NEED to study her. But you can’t even study a REGULAR starship in a lab, let alone THIS one. The UNIVERSE is the lab.

    So they’ll probably, after much deliberation, send a team of scientists, three perhaps, along with Starry’s crew on her next voyage, to gather data specifically about her thoughts, processes, reactions, and relationships.
    They’ll have to install a killswitch again, of course, probably upon pain of deletion, but if they’re wise about it they’ll give one part of it to each scientist and probably another to the Captain so that they have to all be in agreement if it ever comes to that.

    That opens up THAT door again, for one of them to turn traitor and steal the others’ killswitches, but that’s already been done; the more likely scenario (in MY eyes) is that it’s installed, and never used or even threatened, but it continually hangs over the head of Starry and to a lesser extent Elliot.

    There. My predictions going forward. I’m eager for more. Once again, love your work! (^_^)

  5. Melanie Says:

    Blik – thanks! Glad you’re enjoying it. πŸ˜€ Some interesting ideas there. I won’t confirm or deny anything at this point – would hate to spoil the surprise. πŸ˜‰

    Been doing some musing on the drones lately, and decided to write it up and stick it on my writing blog. (Partly prompted by mjkj, but something I’ve been meaning to get to for a while.)

    Hope you all enjoy! πŸ™‚

  6. mjkj Says:

    Thank you Melanie

    Ah, sorry about that – focussed seemed a bit off, that was why it did catch my eye – but usually the spell check of the google tool bar (set to English not to US-English) usually helps with that: armour, colour, centre, metre, etc. do not show as errors – but focussed does – so I mentioned it (sorry did not check dictionary.com first…)

    Quite interesting the implications of the drones – and I am glad you like writing them πŸ˜€

    mjkj

  7. Earl Says:

    Really like the story, but cannot get to it from my droiod x. Get a startup abort message each time I try. Be great if I did not have to fire up the PC

  8. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – don’t apologise! Please keep pointing them out; it helps keep me on my toes. ‘Focussed’ is one of those words that can be done either way in many dictionaries. πŸ™‚

    I’m pretty sure I put ‘focussing’ in this week’s post when I was writing this morning. Just a heads-up. πŸ˜‰