Captain's log, 13:52, 9 October 2214 Location: Standard orbit distance from the Cerces black hole horizon Status: Orbiting Log location: Captain's Cabin
This is Captain Warwick reporting on the loss of Navigator Lang Lang Cartier.
I have started so many log entries this way. So many crew lost. Too many. I should be used to it by now, I should have scars over these parts of myself, but that’s not how it works. The spirit is infinite and so is its ability to be wounded. It never gets easier.
Lang Lang was a damned good navigator. Her role on our roster falls short in summing up the value she lent to us, though.
She was the heart of our crew, in many ways. Our conscience. She had one of the truest senses of right and wrong that I’ve ever known; she was a stainless soul walking among the rest of us, as if to remind us of the kinds of people we once thought we’d be.
She will be missed. By all of us, I think. Even Dr Valdimir was unusually solemn when he was examining her, lacking the comments and griping he’d normally mutter during such a job. He made sure her eyes were closed and her limbs were laid comfortably. It’s the closest I’ve seen him come to showing respect since he stepped on board this ship.
Yesterday, I blamed Starry for what happened. I shouldn’t have done that. I have reviewed the logs, seen the recording of what went on inside Sara’s quarters, and the worst she’s guilty of is hesitating. She was trying to do the right thing, and if I’m honest, I’m not sure the outcome would have been different if she had opened the door when I asked.
I’m the captain; if the blame lies with anyone, it lies with me. I should have seen this coming; I should have known that Lang Lang would do what she thought was best for all of us. I should have guessed that this might be what she wanted.
I had hoped that she would trust me to find another answer. I had hoped to find an alternative to the route she took, so she wouldn’t have to.
The truth is, I’d never seen her so proactive before yesterday. It’s still hard for me to believe that she took the initiative. It’s so unlike her to defy anyone like that. That’s not to say that she is – she was – cowardly or lazy; far from it. But when she stood up before us all, it was a different Lang Lang than the one we knew. She was serene and sure of herself. She wasn’t worried about what the rest of us thought of her.
She said that she finally felt free. That’s what I saw when I looked at her: a free spirit finally stretching its wings. It hurts that her journey was cut so short.
And now, what of it all? Dr Valdimir has been monitoring her constantly since she collapsed. She hasn’t shown any life signs in the traditional human sense but there has been ‘activity’, he calls it. We’re considering moving her out of the Med Bay and into one of the cargo bays, because we’re not sure what this all means and we don’t want to risk the medical equipment the rest of us might need.
Something is changing inside the body of our friend. Cerces’s consciousness making itself at home, no doubt; in order to hold the vast alienness of his mind, he’s rearranging her internal furniture. The doctor reports that most of the cellular changes and firings are occurring in her brain, with the occasional twitch in her extremities. We have taken this to mean that Cerces has accepted the invitation, and that there’s no chance of Lang Lang ever coming back: with every change to her cerebral makeup, another piece of our friend is erased.
May the spirits take her into their care and give her the wings in the next life that she never got to use in this one.
Perhaps this time between is a blessing. We should have a memorial for her, say goodbye before she wakes up with a different mind behind her eyes. She deserves that, and I think it would be good for the crew. They need a chance to mourn, to cry, and that’s best done before Cerces ‘arrives’.
We have all been through so much on this ship. I don’t think it’s fair to let my people hope that maybe, just maybe, our Lang Lang will be who wakes up in her skin. I don’t think it’s fair to look for her within whatever voice speaks through her mouth. She deserves a proper goodbye, and my people need it, too.
They’ll blame him, I think. That’s unfair: we’ll all blame Cerces; I’m not exempt. He has forced this upon us and worn away the sympathy we might have had for him. How we will travel with him? How will we look him in the eye? How will we not see our dead friend standing before us, holding the thing that killed her?
There are so many unknowns in front of us now. It’s going to be hard to keep the peace. Starry is already barely speaking to me, having withdrawn since I told her off yesterday. I have apologised and told her that it wasn’t her fault, but I don’t think she’s ready to believe me yet.
I’m the one who truly failed Lang Lang, may the spirits forgive me. Perhaps I have failed all of us. I should take a leaf out of Starry’s book: she’s always striving to be a better ship, and I should be a better captain.
A better captain would move quickly on this memorial, before Cerces robs us of the opportunity. I’ll ask the crew to all say something. We’ll gather in the Mess Hall; we won’t want to be standing over her body in case it twitches again, or worse. No-one wants to see that.
STARRY: (voice only) Excuse me, Captain Warwick?
CAPTAIN: You don’t have to be so formal, Starry.
STARRY: You asked to be updated if there was a change in Lang Lang’s status.
CAPT: (sitting up straighter) Yes?
STARRY: The doctor has detected some… instabilities in her cellular makeup.
CAPT: What does that mean?
STARRY: He’s not entirely sure, but he thinks we should intervene before it goes too far. He says that her body is breaking down.
STARRY: No, not like that. Differently. He’s still trying to determine what’s causing it.
CAPT: If we intervene and counter what Cerces is doing, we could prevent him from using her as an avatar.
STARRY: It’s a possibility. What he’s doing could also destroy the body before he has a chance to move in.
CAPT: (frowns) We assumed that he knew what he was doing.
STARRY: He seemed sure about who would and wouldn’t be a good candidate. But Lang Lang said that he wasn’t aware of physical avatars until he talked with Kess.
CAPT: (grimances) That’s right. So this is new to him. What’s the doctor doing?
STARRY: He has called Elliott to Med Bay.
CAPT: What for?
STARRY: It’s not clear yet. It’s probably better if you see for yourself.
CAPT: (rises immediately) Of course. I’m on my way. (He steps around the desk and heads for the door, but pauses.) Starry?
STARRY: Yes, captain?
CAPT: Tell the crew there is to be a memorial for Lang Lang in the Mess Hall in half an hour.
STARRY: But this current situation…
CAPT: Will be dealt with. I’m not delaying this. She deserves better from us.
STARRY: Aye aye, sir.
CAPT: (hesitates) Starry…
STARRY: Yes, captain?
CAPT: (shakes his head) Never mind. Where’s Sara right now?
STARRY: In the galley, trying to figure out how to find the snack cupboard.
CAPT: Thank you. (He activates the door to leave his cabin.)