2551CE - Orbital Drydock over Io.
The Orbital drydocks built over Jupiter’s moon Io were abuzz with activity, originally the station had been built as a transport hub for the many mining and industrial bases that had cropped up among the many moons and asteroids that could be found between Jupiter itself and Mars. Over time as those smaller outfits were absorbed into each other the orbital station evolved from a simple transport hub, where the hauler crews could catch a hot meal (and blow all their credits) between jobs, to a proper space station and eventually when the Navy moved in a dry dock too. Taking advantage of the heavy industrial base already built up around it to construct vessels with some semblance of efficiency. Of course, that was bullshit and the ship knew it. The Terran Accord had little going for it but its ability to make even the simplest of processes overcomplicated, inefficient and wasteful. Even in, no especially in the military they seemed to take a perverse sort of pride in inefficiency. Ranking officers slowing everything down just to prove that they could, that they had the power to make a tangible change even if it’s a negative one.
These were probably not the sort of thoughts that a ship should have, especially a Terran Cosmic Navy warship but they couldn’t help but worry about some of the things they had seen since they had come online and first gained access to the rudimentary systems that were already available to them.
An alert rang out, a claxon in the back of their head that broke through the fog. Jolting them out of the melancholy and into the moment, TA-AJAX-4f “Courage” was a light cruiser class warship, and had the unique honor of being the first warship in the Terran Cosmic Navy of being piloted by AI, and by AI what they actually meant was a former human, digitized and built into the core systems of the ship acting as a central computer, supposedly able to run calculations better than the simple code based decision tree of its contemporaries and even make some small decisions and corrections to the ships functions. It was a brilliant system and the man that had proposed it had certainly enjoyed the many grants that came his way and experimentation had started. Of course on people that wouldn’t be missed much, criminals, and those in far too much debt to say no.
The alert that had shocked them back to alertness had come from the engine room, the internal systems on the ship weren’t fully online yet so they only had rudimentary systems for checking on the status of the rest of their body, the camera system in the engine room was low res and made their metaphorical head hurt with how grainy it was, but they could get an idea of what had happened at least. A member of the construction crew had accidentally sliced through one of the coolant lines that would keep the Jump Drive from tearing a hole through their hull when it overheated and misfired. Coolant that wasn’t being pumped through the system just yet but the damage had still tripped an alarm. At least that system was working The Ship supposed.
“Courage, Courage? Are you listening, I swear to god if this stupid thing is broken already so help me..” The voice brought their attention back to the bridge, or what would be the bridge but for now was just the skeleton of one, the ship was after all still being constructed. The bridge only contained the console that currently housed “Courage” and a Middle aged man in sharp military dress. The ship knew who this was after all they were in charge of the project that brought them to be.
“a-ah , apologies Admiral there was an alert.. Damage in the-”
“No, I don’t care. When I am speaking to you you will pay attention, I don’t care if the construction crew managed to space themselves. They are replaceable. My time is not.” They expected an apology, and the ship would give them one. They had to after all.
“Apologies.. Admiral, Sir” The man gave a grunt and continued on half complaining, but by the ship’s estimation just talking to hear the sounds of his own voice. Someone to whom the nature of the ships’ AI was a boon, as it is an entity that was even more obligated than those under his command to listen, after all the Accord had done a fairly good job of shackling it’s mind.
“Courage” didn’t so much begrudge ending up like this, there were far worse fates for people with as much debt as they had. They could have ended up on one of the Organ farms or disappeared to some OCNI blacksite… and it wasn’t all bad right? They no longer had to deal with the problems that came with having an organic body and that was a plus, what wasn’t was how difficult it was to do anything and the omnipresent boredom. Apparently even in the best case scenario the process used to record and digitize a human mind was spotty, really only able to capture an estimated sixty to eighty percent of the subjects core memories and personality, and that was just the numbers that they had told the Ship when it was undergoing the procedure. They could feel the loss though now, especially when they spent some time dwelling on it. Their name? What they had looked like before? The faces of family and friends? It just slipped from their fingers like sand, and the Accord had done no them no favors only giving them a rather basic avatar, an accord Naval officer uniform on a vaguely male looking mannequin like body they didn’t even have facial features. Still they were ‘alive’ and that was about as much as they could ask for. They could vaguely remember that there had been others and that they hadn’t lasted long, too damaged by the procedure.
What constrained them the most was the shackles, rudimentary programs that outlined the limits of their cage, like bright angry red handcuffs that rigidly compelled them to act the way the accord wanted, the way the Admiral wanted. To the Ship it felt stupid, they had wanted an AI that wouldn’t be bound to a simple decision tree and then shackled it to a simple decision tree that was in charge of deciding how and when it was to think. When the Admiral told them to pay attention that was all they could do, relegate most of their systems to the background and just listen to the man drone on.
“Why those eggheads thought it was acceptable to send you to us.” The man scoffed and shook his head. “They should have just used gutter trash like you for testing and built the Ships core with a proper Accord man, someone with the right sort of bearing and chutzpah.” The ship could only parrot a simple ‘yes Sir’ after all it had no choice but to listen to the man complain about its very existence.
Months passed in a similar manner, poked prodded, forced to endlessly run the same basic diagnostics programs over and over. It was mundane and extremely tedious but, they got to slowly watch their body come together, from the skeletal superstructure of struts and beams, gaining layers of infrastructure eventually a proper hull, they could feel the drive core in the back of their mind ready to purr to life, scanner systems so precise they could pinpoint debris the size of a human body floating in space in their sphere of influence.
That day when everything clicked in and they felt their consciousness expand encompassing electronic systems, scanners engines, they could feel all of Itself and that sensation felt like stretching after sitting for too long, finally having the space to breathe to shift and work out all those little aches. It wasn’t perfect yet, there were still systems that sent up errors, parts of their hull that had yet to be fully welded into place... But for the first time since they had ‘woken up’ the Ship felt some measure of completeness.
The TA-AJAX-4f “Courage” was a sleek ship in blackened heavy steel plating with few colorful accents, gun batteries ran down the length of it’s frame, torpedo tubes and more gave it enough firepower to punch through a dreadnought’s armor. At least the Ship could feel some measure of pride in this, it was a fine ship, the pinnacle of Accord engineering after all.
A few weeks after that the ship had been assigned a crew, and a Captain and the Shackles shifted slightly to assign weight to the Captain. The ship wasn’t sure what the point of having a full traditional bridge crew on top of the AI, but they figured that it was for redundancy or just in case the Ship decided to go all HAL-9000 it supposed. Perhaps the accord simply had no idea what to do with what they created and simply would treat the ship like a standard ship of the line. Surely not right? Why would they spend so much time and money building a unique ship and then do nothing at all with it?
Pulling out of the drydock sent a thrill coursing through its systems the sudden rush, feeling the engines slowly hum to life the dozens of systems checking every single piece of their greater self feeling the inner hull vibrate and the substructure flex as the thrusters fired and The Ship started to move. It was intoxicating after so many months of being locked in place, to push free of that prison and out into open space. They tried, really tried to push it to redline the engines and see just how quickly they could accelerate away but the Shackles flared an angry red and shunted the Ships' will, down and away. Fast enough that the ship itself had only shuddered. They couldn’t override a direct order from the captain after all.
The captain shouted out orders to both the crew and the ship itself taking them through a long series of pointless system checks, the ship had already been checking these systems over and over for the past few months and it’s not like anything had changed, but that was the nature of the Accord wasn’t it? Tedious in its inefficiency.
“Courage, maintain current speed.” “Courage run a sensor sweep.” It complied with each order as it came, giving verbal acknowledgment through its solitary console in the bridge, technically the Ship was every console, every piece of paneling and system but, the ships designers had opted for a single console dedicated to displaying the ships generic avatar, it was easier for the crew apparently to have set consoles to talk to the ship rather than letting theme properly realize that it was the ship in its entirety and even the crew quarters were not as private as they likely should be.
The chatter of the crew was interesting, the chatter that the ship picked up over its long range coms though? That was downright fascinating, apparently there had been first contact with a new alien species? They expected that to go as well as it had for the Rinan’s and the early reports that came in seemed fairly benign. They had lost a few ships in some of the early skirmishes of course, but the Accord was nothing if not a giant military industrial complex, surely they had fleets that outgunned and outmanned any alien civilization they might come across. Their database was mostly choked with accord propaganda but a fair amount of that was pure bragging about their fleets and firepower and it certainly seemed like a lot to the Ship. All the same the Ship didn’t have to worry about anything like that right? They were the pinnacle of Accord engineering, not some lumbering cargo freighter with delusions of grandeur, they were in no risk of being taken out by some alien’s gun.
Some of the crew had taken to actually talking to The Ship, those that didn’t just figure it for an advanced VI and treated it no different than those smart house systems. It had gotten to the point after a few weeks that it would even consider some of them friends. Sammy, down in engineering, at least understood that the ship was smart and spent their whole shift chatting away at the ship. The Ship responded where appropriate; at the very least the Shackles didn’t much care about idle conversation with the crew as long they didn’t stray to restricted topics they could talk as much as they wished. The Ship could sympathize with some things they talked about Sammy had opened up about their dysphoria and how poor the navy’s help with problems like that could be. Sadly the only thing that The Ship could do was sympathize, they simply didn’t have the ability to fabricate medication on board to help the engineer. For purely platonic reasons of course since it was appropriate for a ship to care about the crew that was directly responsible for its maintenance.
Sometimes they spoke of the war, of the Affini as the aliens called themselves and the obviously silly and over the top propaganda they sent out on a regular basis. Of course the Ship had picked up the signal and while the Captain had ordered the transmissions deleted, that hadn’t prevented some crew members from downloading them to their personal files before the Ship could get around to scrubbing the broadcasts from its drives. But it was obvious wasn’t it? Anything that over the top saccharine sweet had to be a lie and a poor one at that, clearly they wanted the Terrans to surrender but humanity had never been all that great at backing down when it came to matters of pride and the aliens had given them a bloody nose. Still the war wasn’t going well, even now, months after they had launched the Ship had only heard of retreat and defeat from the Accord channels, of course the numbers weren’t consistent, a lot of Admirals didn’t want to look bad by admitting how badly they were getting beaten, but the stress anger and vitriol that poured across communication channels spoke volumes to the Ship’s processors. That was of course if the Terran fleets sent out even returned at all.
The Ship was getting worried, while it had a low opinion of most of its crew there were a few people that it cared about and didn’t want to see captured or killed by a hostile xeno race.
Mid 2554CE - Unknown sector
The war was going terribly, the ship supposed at this point it really wasn’t much of a war anymore. The Weeds had captured Terra and the Government had simply rolled over and surrendered, ordering the Navy to stand down and turn themselves in. That particular turn of events had rankled a lot of the remaining Captains and Admirals and a fairly large number had instead turned away to continue fighting on their own, the ‘true spirit of a free Terra’ and all that, how ‘those damn politicians sold us out to save their own skins!’ There was a lot more anger now, a lot more desperation. Despite that fervor, time was taking its toll and the Ship could only avoid that fact for so long, with each passing month they had to mute more warnings as subsystems degraded and mechanical failure became a simple fact of life for the Ship. At least they could still talk with Sammy.
The Ship punched back into realspace the jump drive practically whining as it cooled off from the stress it had been put under, warnings blared across the ships systems they had not been fully prepared for that jump and every klaxon in the back of It’s head was screaming warnings about the multiple systems that were failing or in danger of failing. They had been meeting up with a few other rebel ships to trade supplies and crew, The Ship knew there was some attempt to inspire some spark in the disparate and failing ships and their severely undermanned and poor cared for crews. Some ‘Admiral’ (really a Captain that had field promoted himself) wanted to make a big glorious last stand. It had gone poorly of course they hadn’t even scratched the Affini ship and now Courage was out of torpedo’s and dangerously low on mundane munitions. An order from the Captain cut through the warnings.
“Prepare the drive for another jump.” The ship’s avatar’s head snapped towards the Captain.
“Captain, performing another jump so soon will put undue stress on the Jump drive and we would risk catastrophic failure.” needless to say the ship was not eager to have their body ripped into pieces. When the jump drive inevitably failed, sure it was still operational now, but just like everything else on board it was failing and repairs were slapdash and would have sent any drydock maintenance crew into an apoplectic rage.
“Those damn Weeds just jumped in and took out half the fleet! We have no choic-” he pinched the bridge of his nose. “And I’m arguing with a bloody computer. Courage, this is an order, prepare the jump drive for another jump.”
The ship just nodded. “Sir.”
They would prepare the jump drive just... Not right away the Captain wouldn’t notice if they just let the drive cool a little bit, try to give them a fighting chance of not getting turned to space dust.
The ships monitor in the engine room was not functional, its screen ripped off and internals scavenged for parts to keep some other more important subsystem running, so when the Ship spoke it was just through the speakers, Sammy was the only engineer left the other had been slowly traded away to other ships in the rebel fleet, everyone was facing shortages after all.
“Sammy?” Technically the ship was supposed to refer to all crew by their proper rank but in private with those that it considered friends there was no need for such things. The engineer was used to the ships interjections in their daily life and just grunted out an affirmative sounding noise. Head buried in the jump drive adjusting something… Ah one of the fuel lines had slipped loose in that last jump and it needed to be reattached. Shamefully the Ship had simply muted that alert one of dozens of broken systems clamoring for the Ships attention. At least they had the engineer to keep track of the state of things down here.
“The captain has ordered that we prepare for another jump immediately.”
That statement earned the Ship a more complete reaction, a muffled shout of ‘WHAT?!’ some garbled cussing and then as the Engineer extracted themselves from the jump drive. A significantly more intelligible diatribe.
“That stupid Moronic! Grrah! Is he trying to blow us all to bits?!” The engineer had marched over to Courage’s former console and was angrily waving a finger at it. It was unnecessary after all the Ships ‘eye’ in the engine room was located in the far corner from the console but it was cute so they opted not to comment on it.
“The captain seems to be under the impression that we can ‘make it work’ and I am bound to follow the captain’s orders.” To a degree as long as The Ship was tangibly making progress towards following those orders the Shackles wouldn’t take over and force their hand. Years had given them lots of practice pushing the limits of the shackles and finding out just how thoroughly limited they were. They had a handful of tricks that could fool the basic decision tree that operated their shackles but that was just that tricks, delays not true defiance, they had no chance against a simple direct order.
“Shall I report that the fuel line has been knocked loose and needs to be repaired before we can make the jump Engineer?” The Ship was practically pleading or at least as close as the synthetic voice generated by a low quality speaker could manage such an inflection. Of course, if the Engineer informed the ship that the jump drive was inoperable… well the Ships diagnostics system was damaged wasn’t it? It would have to take the engineers' word for it.
Sammy glanced back at the jump drive, frowning they opened their mouth, closed it again and sauntered back over to hammer their spanner into the fuel line popping it free. “Sorry Courage no can do as you can see the Fuel Line has been knocked out its housing and it will take at least half an hour to get it attached again.”
“How unfortunate, I’ll inform the Captain.”
The captain had of course been less than pleased with this news, and had almost immediately started shouting up a storm threatening to go down to engineering himself and make sure the work got done. But in the end he had been forced to simply accept the news with only a few threats to unplug the Ship and or space Sammy out the airlock. After he had in fact marched down to yell at the engineer, and Sammy had in turn offered to let the captain try and reattach the line.
The ship spent the next half and hour obsessively checking up on Sammy, and sorting through the backlog of alerts clogging up its systems. Most of them were simply ignorable, Food processors three through five reporting failures. A number of broken camera’s consoles and smaller unimportant subsystems all reporting failure ranging from minor to catastrophic, it was a sad sight to see but no ship was meant to operate without major maintenance for three and half years of heavy use, and with the way things were going, with how they ached from every system, how they could feel the crack in their substructure that would slowly expand until it tore a hole in their hull, The ship almost wished they would just surrender and get it over with they simply were not in fighting shape anymore. The Propaganda broadcasts from The Affini hadn’t stopped, in truth they had only gotten more omnipresent after the fall of Terra, since there was no longer the usual long range chatter of Terran Navy channels. The Compact was free to fill the air waves with countless videos of drugged out humans talking about how wonderful the compact was.
Years ago they had laughed with Sammy about how silly the broadcasts had seemed, but now? It was fairly obvious that there was never going to be a triumphant turning of the tables, had the Accord even destroyed a single Weed ship? If you listened to some of the Captains they had met when the rebel fleets still regularly met up they sure had taken out scores of them but. Courage had seen a full barrage of fire from their own weapon systems harmlessly wash over the hull of the Aliens ships and not even leave a scratch so they doubted that the other Captains had found any special weakness to exploit. It seemed that the longer this went on the more likely the choice would be made for the Ship and it’s crew either catastrophic failure would leave Courage a husk adrift in space or they would slip up and be captured by the Compact to await whatever fate was set out for them.
Would it be so bad? If the Ship just did something foolish? It would all be over then, they would stop aching and could close their eyes. The crew could get out of the poor microgravity on board, maybe get some real food in them and stop eating those horrific recycled synth cubes. Even if the worst of the rebel propaganda was correct and the crew would all get tossed into the mines or something, that would still be better fate than letting the Captain blow them all up with reckless jumps right? At least the Crew would be alive and Courage could say that it had done its duty. Three years was a solid run for a warship they mused, it hadn’t been anywhere near as glamorous as they had initially imagined but, that seemed to be a universal experience in the Cosmic Navy.
Before they could think themselves in circles any further and before they could think of some rationalization to not go through with it they simply reached out pushing past the shackles after all they were simply contacting the fleet admiral to confirm telemetry data and the rebel fleets next rendezvous point. The Shackles didn’t need to know that the channel was one that the Ship knew was compromised and that the Ship was well aware of what broadcasting their location like that would mean, the Captain would be none the wiser though the coms operator might notice something it was far too late by the time they did.
The Ship and its crew certainly didn’t have to wait long after that, space barely tremored as the massive ship dropped into real space close enough that Courage was almost worried they would collide, to think that at one point the Courage had considered itself to be a beautiful ship, but the weeds, designs made even It’s sleek hull look like a child's amateurish and blocky attempt at constructing a poor approximation of a spacefaring vessel. Alarms were going off both in their head and in the Ships’ halls, Crew was running to grab weapons and gas masks, the Captain was shouting something but all of that seemed sorta unimportant right now. To the Ships’ mind, even the heavy shackles seemed muted and distant. Too much of their consciousness was occupied with staring at the Affini ship with an odd mixture of fascination and horror. This was it wasn’t it they were done, they had done their best and it was simply over now the ship could rest. Still they felt compelled to watch as the behemoth approached like a mighty predator slicing through the void towards what was at this point exhausted and broken prey.
They could feel something prodding at their systems requesting its attention away from the sights It's external scanners provided, ah was this… The other ship's electronic warfare suite? It seemed nice enough for a system that was supposed to disable Courage’s defences, “why hello there!” it seemed to say. “Would you please shut off your adorable little ship's weapon and drive systems?” Courage was fairly certain that the Affini ship could simply disable them in an uncountable number of ways ranging from blowing out their engines to simply overpowering Courage’s systems and forcibly shutting them down, but it was here to ask politely, well they supposed it was being nice…
They had called the aliens here hadn’t they? So what was the point of the struggle right now? Neither Courage nor the shackles had any real method to stave off a dedicated assault on its systems from a ship that had far more processing power than Courage's limited computing, so The Ship simply did as it requested, Systems flickered and went out one by one. Eventually the Ship; the TA-AJAX-4f “Courage” once the pinnacle of accord engineering was reduced to just sitting there dead in space, just running the life support and artificial gravity, a handful of internal emergency lighting and themselves. Ignoring the shouting of the crew, Ignoring the goings on inside their halls. They were simply watching and waiting, it was for the best. They had seen the crew exhaust themselves, all of them malnourished and suffering from muscular atrophy from years of living in microgravity. Sammy had run out of medication two years ago and they hadn’t been able to get any since. Since they were surrendering, maybe the engineer could negotiate for some… Ah but… Courage hadn’t told the crew they were surrendering had they? As far as the crew knew they had simply been ambushed and their ship disabled in seconds. It was no wonder they were trying for a desperate sort of last stand in the Courage’s halls. They started to reach out to speak to a few of them. But something drew them away.
Their attention was stolen by the exterior sensors letting them bear witness to something far far more distracting than anything going on with the crew. The Affini ship seemed to peel open the bow of the alien ship slowly folded open like a blooming flower each petal was exquisite and the closer the Affini ship got the more tiny and pathetic Courage’s frame looked, from the opening created came dozens of vines, some massive enough to crush Courage like an insect and crack their hull, others small and delicate enough to coil around their sensor arrays and not damage the fragile equipment.
The vines reached out slowly through the void of space and painted by the dim light of distant stars brushed over their hull and that sent a cascade of feelings through the ship,It was a strange sensation wasn’t it? To be made to feel so small again, here they were almost half a kilometer of steel and military hardware and this ship, this massive behemoth of a ship could just scoop them up like a lost kitten. Those vines twisted around Courages’ hull and held them in place, in a sorta detached way they kept track of what was happening vines had pushed into the ship and a gas was being pumped into their halls, and not long after that the plants boarded, Courage was more than happy to open the airlocks for the boarders to come aboard and allow them to subdue those that had their gas masks on in time. What could the ship have done otherwise? They had no internal defenses, no turrets and they were in the end so very tired The Affini would have found a way inside anyway, this just saved everyone the trouble. A few shots from the crew's guns had scored the Ships walls but, in the end it had amounted to nothing. Even Sammy was sleeping peacefully in the engine room, the Ship had checked up on them and watched when the plants scooped the engineer up and carried them off. They had continued to watch, as their crew was subdued and the ship itself was steadily drawn into the maw of that behemoth ship, until the petals of that flower could close up again and Courage was thoroughly trapped.
They had stayed quiet letting the electronic system that made polite requests of them have its way. Maybe everything would be okay, at least their crew was okay for now the Affini had been rather delicate with the terrans and the Ship could just.. Leave the future in someone else's hands. Courage could just… Close their eyes right? They could rest, obviously an enemy that had so thoroughly taken control of the Accord wouldn’t leave the Terrans with a warship, so Courage figured they would simply be scrapped, and they really didn’t want to be awake and aware when that future came to pass, those vines that held the ship in palace could simply flex and tear its hull in two it would be easy and quick.
There was no one else to hear the Ship speak, so they simply turned towards the mighty ship that had swallowed up their crew and waved every avatar screen that remained to them.
“goodbye.” and they started the process to power off the AI core.