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Checkup, Part 4 – Astra Nullius

Checkup, Part 3 - Astra Nullius
Checkup, Part 5 – Astra Nullius


Xrrt was nearly done with her survey of the ship’s security system. It had been set perfectly when she left, but that was no guarantee that it was still in working order. Strange mechanics had taken over her ship, and that meant every setting had to be checked personally.

The Benevolence hadn’t been built as a warship, and its second life as a freighter wasn’t supposed to involve much in the way of combat. The plasma cannons and laser guns had been later additions, hooked into a computer system that wasn’t really built to handle weaponry, and just keeping everything functional required frequent calibration. Then there were the doors, set to open automatically for crew members while sealing off depressurized sections and other hazards. The system was designed to work with standard ID chips, but Sera was constantly causing it to glitch out; she was walking around with so many irregular chips in her arms that the ship’s computer registered her as a small and highly suspicious crowd.

Mirelle’s ID chip was throwing up warning messages too. It was close to a standard chip, but there was an irregular pattern to the data that the security system was picking up on. It looked like someone had taken a standard chip, partially wiped it, and inserted new information over the old framework. It was a good facsimile of a real identity, more than enough to fool a scanner at a colony checkpoint, but the Benevolence was set up to keep closer tabs on its crew.

Her office door slid open with a hiss. Xrrt looked up, fighting a brief moment of confusion. Something about the sound of a metal door on a metal track sounded like her native language’s word for the diffraction of sunlight on a piece of meat. She’d tried to explain it to a series of mechanics, asking if there was some way the tracks could be greased, but no one had been able to understand her through the translator.

Jianyu was standing just outside the door. He tapped his knuckles on the frame, a habit humans called knocking that they used when they were waiting for an invitation into a room. Xrrt responded by curving her forclaws in toward her body. It wasn’t a gesture she’d grown up with, but one she’d learned from imitating her human crewmates. Humans called it beckoning.

Jianyu stepped into her office and glanced back at the door, watching it close behind him. When he was certain they weren’t going to be overheard, he said, “Xrrt, can I ask you something?”

Xrrt turned away from her workstation and leaned over her desk. She didn’t really need one. Most of her work was on her computer, specially adapted for her anatomy. Still, the Coalition had given every security officer the same heavy expanse of wood and steel, under the logic that every bipedal humanoid species was primed to consider someone behind a big desk an authority. Hers was beginning to show its age, with pits and gouges in the polished wooden top where she’d been careless with her claws.

She tilted her head to the side, a gesture that humans associated with intent listening, and folded both sets of foreclaws on her desktop.

Jianyu said, “What would you do if the captain was ordering the crew to do something risky? Would it be your job to stop her from putting another person’s life in danger, or would you trust her judgement?”

Xrrt said, Living in the vacuum of space is dangerous. Breaking out of a planet’s atmosphere to get to space puts lives at risk. Landing again comes with even more risks. But even living in the safest city on the safest planet in the galaxy doesn’t mean you’ll never be in danger. Every person makes choices each day of their lives to do the thing that is less safe, less predictable. I have lived alongside Nyx for a very long time now. Sometimes she makes choices that even I find questionable. But I know that when she chooses to put her crew in danger, she does it for reasons she believes are right.

Her translator said, “It depends on the level of risk. I trust the captain’s judgement.”

“Okay, let’s say the worst thing that could happen is really bad. But the chances of that happening are very small.” Xrrt had a chair in her office, but Jianyu chose to stand and pace instead. The room was big, but he could only get a couple of steps in either direction before he had to turn around. “And let’s say you’re not sure the captain really understands what she’s asking. Let’s say it isn’t her area of expertise.”

Xrrt said, It is not the captain’s job to be an expert in every possible discipline that keeps this ship running. If she could do that, she wouldn’t need any of us. It is part of her job to trust us to do our jobs. Likewise, it is part of our jobs to trust her when she makes a decision. Despite this, I am getting the sense that whatever you are concerned about is something you are deeply frightened of. How much danger is the crew really in if she chooses the option that’s less safe?

Her translator said, “The captain can make her own choices. What is the worst thing that could happen?”

Jianyu stopped pacing. He said, his voice lower than normal, “Have you ever heard of the Assimilation?”

Xrrt moved her head up and down, nodding in the human style. She knew that word. It had been the name of a Coalition ship. One of the science officers had been a relative of hers–not a sister, but a connection from another hive with a queen that had come from the same mother as her own mother. She couldn’t recall what had happened to the ship. There had been so many lost that it was difficult to keep track.

“Did you hear what happened to it?”

She swivelled her head left to right, shaking it no.

“A few years after the Benevolence left known space, the Assimilation’s crew was completely changed out. It was going to embark on another exploratory mission, but all of its navigation crew were Minervans. It was supposed to be an experiment, to see how Minervan navigators performed under the stress of long-term travel. It set out on its first flight, turned on its FTL drive, and just… vanished. No one picked up any distress signals, or signs that it had passed by, or anything. It was just gone.” Jianyu spread his hands in front of him, as if he were searching for something in the empty air. “Like it fell right out of the universe. That just happens with Minervan navigators sometimes. Their brain structures aren’t fully compatible with Coalition hardware. Sometimes they just… get lost. It’s very rare, but rare isn’t impossible.”

Xrrt said, I tried to tell you before that life always comes with risks. I think you have done an excellent job of trying to make this ship as safe as possible. But when you calculate what is truly dangerous to this crew, you have to include yourself as a variable. You have to consider the possibility that you will fail if you try to do everything alone. If you continue to work by yourself, how dangerous is that?

Her translator said, “It is also dangerous to do too much alone.”

Jianyu sighed and responded, “Yeah, maybe it is.”

Checkup, Part 3 - Astra Nullius
Checkup, Part 5 – Astra Nullius


  1. Whsper - Reply

    Xrrt is the most thoughtful and eloquent crew member by a wide margin, and she really is my favorite viewpoint character. But in her own way she is also the most tragic due to that damn translator! Does the rest of the crew understand all that they are missing? Do they really know HER? She clearly understands English, and I’m guessing she can read it; does she ever write to the crew to fill in some of the missing pieces?

    • Phsyron - Reply

      I always wonder why, since she obviously can understand humanoid language, and she obviously does stuff with the computers, why she doesn’t just type something out for them. At least she could get her door fixed.

      I just keep waiting for us to meet another Centaurian and for them to not have any problems communicating with their translators, and it’s just that Xrrt is so long-winded that the translator can’t deal with it.

      • Whsper - Reply

        Given that they have a single word for “the diffraction of sunlight on a piece of meat”, I doubt that it is so much “long winded” as inherently information dense. I can also understand her relying on the translator for most communication as it will generally be much faster, but I hope they do see her depth sometimes.

        Also, how do you have a picture next to your name? I don’t see a way to do that.

  2. Jeremy P Spinrad - Reply

    My view of Xrrt’s translator problems is that, tragically, she has no idea that her translator does such a poor job! How would she find that out? Who knows, she may even discover that in a future episode.

    • Phsyron - Reply

      I don’t think so. She understands English (or galactic basic or whatever the crew speaks usually) well enough to understand what the crew is saying to her, she just doesn’t have the physiology to recreate the necessary sounds.

  3. Jeremy P Spinrad - Reply

    Do we know that she understands English, rather than getting it through her translator? In my imagination, her species speaks a much more complex language, and it may be much easier to translate from human speech to her language than vice-versa.

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