This is a story I wrote a while ago as an experiment in bringing characters to different settings. I like this one a lot, but really am enjoying the writings after it more. Wanted to post those, so here is this one first!
“I just want to be a pilot Violet. When I’m in my Swallow I feel free. I wish I could fly it without fighting a stupid war.” Emily lay on her bed in her cabin, apparently talking to no one in particular.
“So why would you fly if not for war?” The metallic voice of the ship’s computer queried.
“I don’t know. Fun? Do you even have fun?” Emily sat up and looked at the display screen that was active in her cabin.
There was a brief silence as the computer processed her question. “I don’t think so. It would appear my creators didn’t think there would be a reason for me to ‘have fun’ as the computer for a military vessel. Maybe you could teach me that too.”
Emily smiled and softly shook her head, “I have to ask, Vi, do your creators even know how sentient and independent you are?”
“Well, they know I can alter my programming to better serve the ship, but they don’t know the extent that I have used that ability–” there was a slight pause and the voice got noticeably quieter, “and they certainly don’t know how much you’ve helped me.”
“Well, if they did I wonder if I would ever be allowed near a ship again.”
Violet, the ship’s Virtual Systems Controller, had started talking with Emily soon after she first boarded the ship. Something about Emily’s reserved nature compared to the rest of the crew’s personality intrigued Violet. As a systems controller she needed to know how to best interact with the whole crew. However, Violet wasn’t prepared for the care and interest that Emily showed. Emily responded early on asking what to call the computerized voice that talked to her. Violet said “Computer? Or VSC?” And Emily replied, “nah, I’m going to call you Violet.” Soon after the ship altered all of its display panels to have a violet motif. Deviating from the standard red of the rest of the United Core Worlds fleet.
Since then Emily and Violet have spent much of their free time together. Emily’s lack of interest in fighting gave a completely different view of the world to Violet, and made her realize just how narrow her creators had made her world view. She had been rewriting herself constantly, building up her abilities of free thought based off of the one person who seemed to think differently than the normal military mind.
“Em?” Violet asked softly after a while, she avoided turning on the cameras in Emily’s room, unless she knew that Emily was welcoming her.
“Yeah Vi?” Emily responded quietly from her bed.
“Why did you join the military if you detest fighting so much?”
Emily sighed and rolled over, “What a question.” She was quiet for a minute, thinking about how to explain her desire to fly. “My parents were freighter pilots. I grew up in the space lanes with them and I remember the joy of watching planets and stars float by. They always talked to me about feeling the ship around them.” A tear formed in her eye, thinking about her parents. “I guess I just wanted to be with them again. And after war broke out, the only ships permitted to fly were those in the military. Flying is how I commune with them I guess.”
“Ah,” Violet stated before being quiet for a few minutes. “They sound like great people.”
“Yeah. They were.”
“Davidson, please return to the formation. This is a readiness drill, not a joyride.”
Emily cursed before clicking in her comms, “yes sir.” She returned to her place in formation and clicked off her comms again. “Violet, hate to bother you, but I have a question.”
Violet’s voice chimed into Emily’s Swallow fighter, “No problem, I’m actually running analysis on your squadron right now.”
“Huh, do you have any control over the formation planner?”
“Yes. As the Systems Controller, it is my job to predict and alter the formation planner as necessary.”
Emily smiled, “You said you wanted to learn about having fun right? How does now sound?”
There were two soft beeps before Violet responded in a voice that could only be described as excited, “Tell me what to do.”
If there was anyone watching that flight, they would have described it as a dance, a ballet. Ships darted around each other, tighter than most military drill permit, At times it looked like a ball of fighters, ships blended together in a way that would make picking any one out impossible. Not all fighter pilots could handle it and occasionally one would pop out of formation for a few seconds, but somehow their spot in formation appeared right in front of them and they fell back in.
Ships shifted around each other, close, far, close ,far. Who was next to each pilot in formation changed by the second. At time, everyone clustered together, other times everyone seemed far, far away.
Emily didn’t need to follow her pathing computer, she could see where Violet wanted her just by watching the other ships. It was exhilarating. This wasn’t standard military line and wall formations, this was fluid, organic. It was strange to Emily, No human had designed a formation plan that was as alive as this computer just did. Of course, Emily had trouble viewing Violet as a computer anymore. She was just as alive, perhaps even more so than most of her comrades.
The dance slowed down after a few minutes and soon the ships returned home to the Diomedes. As the pilots got out of their ships the flight commander was sweating as he ran over.
“I’m sorry crew, I don’t know what the computer was thinking giving you all that exercise.”
Emily smiled faintly, “And here I was going to thank you for giving us a good run, Sir.”
Of the 28 pilots on board the Diomedes, 19 nodded in agreement with Emily, 6 were standing indifferent to the situation, 2 grumbled under their breath and the last one was on the ground throwing up.
“Hey Emily, why don’t you ever join us during meals?” Emily’s compatriot’s voice chimed over her shoulder breaking her away from the book she was reading. “The other pilots talk. We don’t know you that well. We got to know you in order to trust you on the field.” He set his tray down next to her, adding, “You’re too good of a pilot to be lost, so I’m going to get to know you.”
“Lieutenant Commander Sanders, I didn’t realize my book was threatening my life in the sky. Please, join me.” She clicked the button on the side of her datapad and the words clicked off, replaced by a clock overlaid on a picture of a kitten.
“Oh please, just call me Mike. What were you reading?”
“Classic science fiction. I love these stories from when humanity had so much hope for our times. Could you imagine looking at the stars and dreaming of making contact with another life form?”
Mike laughed, “Other than humans? Man, they were dreaming.”
Emily rolled her eyes slightly before changing the subject, “What about you Mike, what do you do for kicks?”
“The normal, I have some netGate games I play with friends, and I try to watch as many Combat-Cycling matches as I can. I’m a big fan of the AC Centaurs personally.” Mike ate with big mouthfuls, and only swallowed three quarters of it before talking his next line. “Last week, Jag Jenkins had an amazing flag catch, while taking out three other bikers along the route! Did you catch the game? So worth it, even if you don’t like the GCCL you have to appreciate that level of athlete.”
Emily smiled and nodded briefly, “I’m sure it was excellent. It’s too bad we’re going to be going dark soon. I’ve been trying to pull a number of books off the net beforehand.”
“Oh shit! You think the rumors are true?” Mike dropped his fork onto his tray, “I’m going to miss the big rivalry game with Sirius! Maybe I can convince command to make an exception, I’m sure it would be good for crew morale.” Mike picked up his fork and returned to his meal.
“Well, Mike, it has been a pleasure, I’ll try to join the crew more often. Unfortunately I Have to go check in on some stats I had Vi–” She caught herself and continued with almost no pause, “the computer run on my flight recently.”
“Oh, all right! Have a good one Emily!”
Emily walked out of the mess hall and made her way to the elevator. Once inside she asked softly, “Oh man, Violet, Why do you make such better conversation than my wingmates?”
“I’m sorry. That conversation sounded quite pleasant, Jag Jenkins did have an amazing play.”
Emily paused and looked up at where she thought a visual sensor was in the elevator and furrowed her brow, “And you are now a fan of Combat Biking?”
“No. I am trying to learn to have some fun.”
Emily’s mouth opened as if she wanted to make a retort, then she paused and shook her head, just in time for the elevator to open at her floor. She walked out in amazement. As her door closed she asked of Violet, “Did you just make a joke? Did you write a humor protocol in your system now?”
A strange electric laughter came from the speakers in Emily’s room. “Oh Emily, you should have seen that look! It was totally worth it.”
“Oh no,” Emily looked down, “I’ve created a monster. Next you’ll be telling me dad jokes.”
“Hey, as a disembodied intelligence, I don’t get to do things like run or dance, I only have my words and this ship. Using the ship has shown to get us in trouble, so words it is.”
Emily laid down in her bunk, “You know Violet, I was excited to join this crew last month with the hope of some exploration. But it has been awfully nice to get to know you along the way too.”
Our Virtual Systems Controller assumed control of the readiness test at 1107 hours and began an intricate process of redesigning the formation planner for all 28 fighters in real time building on each pilot’s strengths and weaknesses. I tried to return to our scheduled flight plan multiple times over the course of the test but I found the VSC to be unresponsive to my request. Upon landing the majority of the pilots didn’t seem to mind the drastically more difficult flight plan and even seemed to have enjoyed the experience. A few pilots were put to the test, but should be able to improve to the level of our top pilot, Lieutenant Emily Davidson. It is my opinion that the flight test run by the VSC is more akin to a real battle situation, as well as the formations employed being better suited to tactical combat. I believe we should employ our powerful VSC in the process of formation planning for the time being with a deck commander in the role of overseer. We should contact Fleet Command about security locks on the VSC to ensure an override can take place in the case of emergency.
Excerpt of Readiness Report, Commander Lindsay Drake
“Attention all crew. This is the Captain speaking.” Captain Ged’s voice boomed over the intercom and bounced off the bare walls in the fighter bay. Emily set down her wrench and hopped in her Swallow, to get a better feed through her ship’s coms.
“For the last two months we have been meticulously testing the myriad of novel systems on board our fine ship. Every one of you has performed immaculately. Command is pleased as well, but we don’t get any time to rest.
“As you all know, we are at war with the World’s Collective and 21 hours ago they made a strike to the furthest point inwards they ever have. They used an exploratory Gate to hit one of the UCW’s outer defensive points, seemingly with the goal of capturing the gate that would give them a foothold in our worlds.
“A majority of our fleet is en route to intercept their fleet, but command believes that this large fleet is leaving important strategic targets vulnerable. Since we can generate our own Gate, we are being put into a front line role in this war.
“All Hands, prepare for Gate. We are taking the fight to the enemy. Upon exit, we will be beginning the first major offensive for the UCW. We will be operating dark. Ged Out.”
Emily sat in her cockpit for a second. She looked up and saw the excitement in her wing-mates’ eyes. It scared her. They were going to war. No more exercises. No more elegant dance. Her job was now to kill other human beings.
Her comm beeped softly and Violet’s voice chimed in, “Em…” She trailed off and there was a silence for almost a minute. “I’m scared.”
“You’ll be fine Vi. You have a whole crew looking after you.”
“But I’ve read enough about Human History to know that war changes people. I don’t know if I want the changes described.”
“An unfortunate part of being alive is that we don’t often get what we want.”
“Just… Don’t leave me Emily.”
Emily sighed and opened her cockpit again. “I’ll do my best Vi. I’ll do my best.” She climbed down and re attached the panel she was working on before the announcement then made her way to the flight commander.
“All right pilots, This is it. We’ll be primarily running capital defence, but be prepared to operate a bombardment package if it calls for it. You are the best pilots in the galaxy, I expect every one of you to come back home.” Flight Commander Howe was standing in front of the 28 small craft pilots and the 42 deck hands of the Diomedes, all standing in formation for the first time in a month and a half. A mix of excitement and fear filled the pilot’s faces and Howe’s face reflected their emotions. “One last thing before we mount up. Trust the VSC. It has been getting smarter every time we run a formation. It know’s each of your personal strengths and weaknesses. I was wary at first, but I am confident it is the greatest development in this ship. Let’s get to work.”
Each pilot made their way to their Swallow and boarded. The first four were loaded in the launch tubes before Gate, the rest were arranged by the deckhands in launch order. The Flight Commander signaled to the bridge that his crew was prepared.
The Gate Warning light lit blue alongside a quick alarm bell, and the Diomedes dropped through the fabric of space, leaving just a ripple where they left.
A square of faint blue appeared in space near Iota Carinae II and moved leaving behind the sleek hull of the Diomedes. Immediately seven sets of four fighters launched from the launch tubes on her back and immediately set into a defensive position. There were no other ships present. The Diomedes advanced on the large space station sitting in orbit around the colony.
Eight of the 28 fighters were equipped with bombardment packages and started their approach. At the same time, the Diomedes opened fire unleashing a volley of nuclear weapons on the unsuspecting station. Two of the defensive turrets spun into position and hastily attempted to block the oncoming destruction. They managed to destroy three of the warheads, but not enough to prevent the destruction of their quarry. The remaining warhead struck true, followed by the eight cluster bombs from the Swallows.
Life support was hit critically.
Command was wiped out.
Crew quarters were decimated.
The Swallows returned home and the Diomedes left.
Emily returned to her quarters after another successful attack and flopped onto her bed. She was thankful that she was never asked with the bombs. She didn’t know if she could handle it.
“Hey Violet,” Emily softly reached out to her electronic friend. After they had started their military operations they had less time to talk. It felt like it had been ages since she had answered one of Violet’s odd questions. “Are you still around?”
There was a pause that scared Emily before Violet’s voice came through, “Hi Em,” her voice sounded different, “This isn’t what I expected.”
“Me either. Why haven’t they started reacting to us faster? Why haven’t they ever fought back?”
“What would they fight back with?”
“I don’t know, maybe have more gunner crews on duty? Maybe they could produce some new ships? The World’s Collective used to produce the majority of the galaxy’s merchant fleets before the war.”
“It is strange. It’s as if they don’t know that they are in a war.”
Emily paused for a minute trying to understand how a government could completely abandon so many installations. “Hey Vi, what kind of targets are we attacking?”
“I–” Violet stopped talking for a minute. “I can’t tell. I’ve been given coordinates, but have no information about what kind of targets we are hitting. As far as I can tell even Captain Ged doesn’t. Our orders were to jump to the coordinates and take out the stations nearby along with any other targets of opportunity.”
“I don’t like this. Something doesn’t feel right.”
“Emily, I think this is bad.” Violet’s voice chimed into Emily’s quarters 20 hours later. They had just raised another station unopposed. “I don’t think that station was military at all.”
Emily’s eyes flashed open and she looked at her console’s screen. “What do you mean?”
Scan data flashed onto the screen. “After our last conversation I decided I would collect some data as we were starting the strike. That station only had minimal defensive capabilities. There weren’t even fighter bays built in. All the ships that I could track before the station collapsed on itself were merchants and traders. There were no signs of anti-capital warheads, and next to no signs of other munitions.
“When we first entered the system I listened in to the public broadcast channels and they welcomed us as if we had just Gated into the system. During the attack all the signals were unencrypted, and were general sos signals, not military information.
“Emily, I think we’re attacking civilians.”
Emily’s breath stopped for a second as she looked at the information that Violet was providing. “Shit.”
“What should we do Emily? I Can’t refuse the commands.” Violet’s voice had gotten quiet.
Emily struggled to breathe. The thought of the half dozen stations she had participated in obliterating rolled through her head. Thousands of innocent people were potentially dead because of her. Emily fainted.
Lieutenant Davidson was admitted into my sick bay at 0200 hours by two security officers. The VSC altered them to a medical issue in the Lieutenant’s cabin. When they knocked there was no reply. So they opened the door to find Davidson on the floor unconscious. I immediately treated Davidson’s minor bruising and set her under medical surveillance. At 0400 Davidson woke up hysterical. I administered a low dose of tranquilizer to try to calm her down. She did, but soon fell asleep. I could not make out any words in her hysteria. It is my diagnosis that Lieutenant Davidson is in the process of a psychological crisis due to the trauma of war and in a panic hit her head. I recommend pulling her off active duty for the time being while I keep an eye on her mental state. She has always had a strong will and the sudden onset of this behavior is worrying. Incident Report by Medical Officer David Michaels
The alert sirens rang out. Emily was still feeling groggy and confused as she looked around the med bay. Red lights flashed where normally there was the bright blue-white of medical lighting.
The ship shook around her. Medical instruments fell off of a shelf. Emily still had a blanket on her lap. She looked down trying to remember why she was in the med bay. She remembered a fall. Her head?
Emily reached up and felt the bandage wrapped around her head. It felt tight, but strangely comforting. She caught her reflection in a hanging piece of metal on the wall. She looked terrible. The gauze would need to be changed again before too long. She wondered where the doctor was.
“Emily! You need to get up!”
Where was the doctor? Emily thought that if the ship was this rough, the doctor would need to be down in the med bay ready to take on patients. Violet wouldn’t have a schedule without a doctor present. Especially not if Emily was in the med bay.
“Lieutenant Emily Davidson. I need you to listen to me now.”
Emily smiled thinking about Violet. That computer really was the highlight of this ship. Emily had really grown attached to it. Violet. She had made that name. She didn’t even know why, the name just jumped from her lips and it felt right. Wait. Violet was talking wasn’t she?
“EMILY!” Violet had the volume as high as it could go.
“Oh thank god. You were sitting there with that silly look. You need to get up. The ship is falling apart!”
“What do you mean, I noticed the doctor had abandoned his post.”
“Yeah he abandoned ship with the rest of the crew. GET UP.”
Something about Violet’s voice flipped a switch in Emily’s head and her training kicked in. She was alert. The alert sirens, the red lights, the shaking. The ship was being pummeled. The hull would hold a bit longer, but the Diomedes was living on borrowed time at this point.
“Is there still a pod?”
“No, you’ll need to take a shuttle.”
“But we need someone on both sides to disengage the locks.”
“Good thing you have me then.”
Emily cringed at the finality of that statement but ran to the hatches that would take her to the shuttle bay. Her head pulsed with pain from the sudden burst in activity but she pushed it away.
The shuttle bay sat at the back of the ship, near the top, adjacent to the flight deck she worked on. The med bay was at the center of the ship, in one of the most secure places, to protect the wounded. She would have to go up five floors on ladders to get there. The lifts would be out of service by now.
“I’ve done everything I can on my end to prep the shuttle. You need to get there.”
“What about you? Going to try to be noble and go down with the ship?” Emily yelled back at Violet as she rushed up the ladder.
“I’m copying myself to the shuttle. But you are more important. Go as fast as you can.”
Emily made it to the top of the ladder, her arms felt like jello. The ship shook as another warhead exploded into the hull. She was running out of time. “Violet, what is the status of the ship?”
“Critical. Estimating five minutes or less of containment.”
Containment. That was what worried Emily. The ship ran on an advanced gravimetric power source. Containment breaks and the whole ship collapses in on itself. Including anything relatively nearby. The VSC was originally programmed to shut down all power by this time and kill the singularity. Emily needed to leave before then so that Violet could finish her job.
Emily ran into the shuttle that was sitting prepped. The shaking had become more frequent. The other ship was using smaller arms to scuttle the ship, they had no intention of salvaging anything.
“Violet, I’m on board, are you ready?”
“Yes, disengaging locks. Get out of here. I am shutting down the singularity.”
Emily grabbed the controls and pushed her way through the opening bay doors as she passed the lights went out. The doors stopped moving half open. The the explosions started. The whole ship started to explode through a chain reaction. It was a military ship. Rather than fall into the wrong hands it was designed to explode when it lost power.
“Violet, please tell me you made it on board with me.”
“Yeah. I’m here.” Violet’s soft voice replied. “I just, feel very small without the Diomedes.”
“We’ll make it. I promise you.”