This is just how my life is: I write novels in my mind in my spare time, but I just can't write them down without help, so they are always lost. The way my life is, these things never get told, because I need help, and no matter what help I need, I can be assured I won't get it. But I might as well write *about* it, when I can do nothing to actually *write* it.
The story starts with a bunch of scavengers who have finally arrived (via relatively slow warp drive) at a derelict field of ships they had detected a far ways from Earth. The scavengers have been granted salvage rights to own the ships, as long as they can get them moving, and as long as they swear an oath to act in the service of Earth, the United Planets, and mankind. Our hero is not the first to board his ship, not by far, and not the first to restore power, but gets lucky when he finds a keyword that activates the ship's AI, or Matchina (Pronounced as an accented Machina). Bit by bit, word by word, he and the A.I. start to understand one another, and coordinating with the other scavengers over radio, they slowly begin to get the ships in order.
This first ship (by now I've forgotten its name, it was this morning when he was last an active character) requests fuel, which (after running through a table of elements) it turns out is just water--a fusion drive that only needs that simple compound is the main power source for these ships. He takes enough to fuel the jump engine and, promising to return, heads back to earth. This, as it turns out, is instant, though of course he is not sure from just this one jump; he requests a heavy lift rocket from Earth with as much water as they can get to orbit, as well as a translator. Within a couple days, this is prepared, and he heads back. He shares the water with the other ships, and his vessel requests that he next salvage one vessel in particular. Every one of the scavengers so far is busy with their own ship (they did not bring extra crew, and once they discovered that the AI can run the ships, there was little need to be redundant) so he leaves his ship with the translator in command and boards the next.
The next ship is larger; if the first was a cargo corvette or medium yacht, this is a medium frigate, with docking room for a couple smaller ships. It is empty of fuel, but there is a ship in the hold just barely surviving, and in that ship is a cryogenic capsule with an alien woman in it. Neither he, nor humans, nor the ship (Michita) itself have the ability to safely resuscitate her, so that is put on the back burner as they attempt to bring all the scavengers back home. The original human vessel with the slow warp is loaded as cargo, and the scavengers go home to Earth, leaving several ships as yet un-picked.
There is some to-do about the ships and their Matchina back on Earth, and some meetings are scheduled with the admiralty of the United Planets to decide on what to do. I forget much of that section of the story, because it was a lot of specific dialogue about what was going on; the matter of concern is that the protagonist Captain Valla is constantly concerned about what is best for the United Planets, mankind, and also the ships' AI--he refuses to treat them as machines, having seen them as intelligent, and argues against any interpretation of the law, or any military order, that considers the ships to be only objects. That includes arguing against turning over ships to the U.P. Navy, when they have already been given to the scavengers by the U.P. government by right of salvage.
Importantly, the AI of Michita is female, and isn't getting along well with Captain Valla. So he volunteers that anyone may come forward, but that the ship's AI shall be free to choose her next captain. She instantly chooses the oldest of the candidates, an experienced Ship's Captain, and he hands over the ship with no strings attached. Still, he does want a ship, and isn't keen on taking his first ship back from the translator--since the two of them seem to be getting along fine, and making great strides in helping mankind communicate well with the ships. So the new Captain takes the old one back to the salvage field, and on a tip from Michita, they select a large, double-engine military cruiser. Like Michita, this reacts badly to being boarded at first, but Captain Valla is kind and patient, and it yields--immediately after learning that Michita, and her passenger, are still alive.
In speaking with the AI of this new ships, the Conchita, the Captain learns that one of the ships betrayed the fleet, long ago. This AI is very loathe to trust anyone, and the Captain is not willing to give it too long a leash, because it is very much a military vessel, but he is also patient, and after being understanding for long enough, the AI finally buckles, and admits that it has the facilities to resuscitate the cryogenically frozen passenger. They are all very excited, but nobody wants to bring an AI-controlled warship to Earth, so they arrange to send the Michita back to meet with them, along with a Marine honor guard and an admiral.
The Conchita also reveals, by circuitous admission, that it has been suborned by an unknown party, making it likely to be the one who betrayed the fleet in ancient times. The Captain removes its communications systems after learning that the ship has contacted some unknown party from its species' previous history, but allows the medical operation to go on without leaving the area. Along the way, a saboteur from the Admiral's party attempts to take control of the Conchita (this after an argument with the admiralty over long-range communications), and the Captain immediately kills him; the Admiral is indignant that his man has been killed, and the Captain, without hesitation, kills the admiral as well, then immediately faces the crew to explain himself, and then facing the admiralty to do the same. They all worry quite a bit about his methods and intentions, but allow him to remain Captain.
The frozen passenger is thawed, and the ship reveals her to be a member of royalty--1200 earth years ago, elsewhere in space, for a species that lives at most 200 years. No longer a princess even in name, and with none of her crew or entourage remaining, she considers herself to have few choices except to perhaps act as an inter-species ambassador; this is complicated somewhat when ships from her civilization show up, demanding the return of the ships as their property.
With the Conchita's communications out, another Ship's Captain has to serve as negotiator, and the newcomers agree to hold off on their demand--if they can meet this long-lost princess from their history, about the Conchita. Many preparations are made, with many worries about what will happen if push comes to shove, but negotiations go well enough. The salvage Captains consider the ships to be the Princess', not the property of the descendant civilization, and she grants them rights to salvage the vessels, except only the Michita. The commodore in charge of negotiations for the civilization is amused by Captain Valla's interest in preserving the AI, and reveals that these missing ships--and the idea that a suborned AI was the reason for missing royalty--had started a 300-year war nearly 200 years after their disappearance, and consequently, AI were both made and treated very differently now. They agree to respect the rights of these Matchina, the last remaining remnants of the old AI, and are willing to swap the historic ships for equivalent ones made in a modern era, with the caveat that the old AI stays with the humans (if the AI and the Captain agree).
And that's about where I was when I decided to sit down and record the history of this story instead of continuing to daydream through my day.
God, I wish I were reading this story instead of just inventing it in my head--because then I could reread it later. When this is done it will be gone forever. I can never go back; it's like performance art, except that the ephemeral nature is something sad, something I cannot control. I suppose it's more like a book that burns, page by page, as I read it. I want to keep it. I want help. But these things always vanish and there is nothing I can do to change it.