Ship’s log, 02:47, 6 October 2214 Location: In the system of the Cerces black hole Status: Sublight transit
I hate only being able to listen to half a conversation. It’s bad enough that portions of my sensors are dark, I’ve got spotty coverage across most of my decks, and I’m struggling to pick up all the things I’m used to seeing. But this? This is worse.
I can hear everyone speaking but not the black hole’s responses. I know he’s responding because my crew have listening-face. But there’s no sound!
I keep checking my sensors in Med Bay to make sure I’m not partially deaf in there. I’ve had to stop four automatic diagnostic runs already, because I know I’m fine in that room. It has some of the best shielding aboard me, and thus the least damage. At the same time, I know I’m not detecting everything that’s going on. It’s like an itch I can’t scratch, a blur in my vision I can’t blink away.
I have managed to glean a few things from the half of the conversation I can pick up: the captain is annoyed enough to be stern with our guest; everyone in the room can ‘hear’ him; and there seems to be some confusion about what the captain is annoyed about.
The captain isn’t the only one who is angry with Cerces. I’m trying to help Elliott with as much of the repairs as possible, though my hands are mostly otherwise engaged. Waldo is back online and helping, and Bit and Byte are making efforts.
Casper is still offline.
I… I don’t want to think about that right now. I’ll worry when I know how bad it really is. Okay, I’m going to worry anyway, but I’ll confine it to a background process until I know more. Detailed diagnostics are running.
It’s not like I don’t have plenty to do. Mapping out my internal systems, identifying the damaged parts, creating lists of areas that need attention… Power surges aren’t fun. Nor is the damage to my power cores. I’m starting to think that one of them is cracked. It’s stable, for now, but my projections for how long it will stay that way are variable.
(Elliott is sitting on the edge of a hole in the floor, scowling at the readout projected above his left forearm.)
ELLIOTT: Starry, can you do a diagnostic sweep on the dampeners?
STARRY: Uh… no. They’re still disabled on my end.
ELLIOTT: You should be able to run diagnostics.
STARRY: My connection to that system must have gone down. Can you divert and reconnect it? I’ll light up the working pathways.
ELLIOTT: (sighs and rubs the back of his head) Right, right. (He clambers down into the hole again.)
He looks so weary. It’s late and he should be in bed, but I need him to do what he’s doing right now. I need my engineer to help me make my people safe.
Waldo has already brought him some sustenance. I’ll play some of his favourite music; that’s all I can do to help him right now. As soon as my critical systems are out of the red – when I’ve got my inertial dampeners and environmental systems back on line – then I’ll send him to bed. Knock him out if I have to.
…speaking of knocking people out and other extreme measures, what is Big Ass up to?
Location: Med Bay
(The captain and doctor are standing around a gurney with a tub on it. Inside the tub, a black kitten with bright blue eyes is half-submerged in water. Big Ass is standing nearby, holding Sara so she can see the kitten.)
CAPTAIN: …need some way to be sure that you’re not going to do this again. I need to be sure that the danger to my ship is over.
BIG ASS: (lifts his head and turns abruptly to move around the corner of the gurney. On the way, he holds Sara out for the doctor to take.)
DR SOCKS: (blinks and steps back out of the drone’s way. He takes the child automatically, though he holds her at arm’s length like he doesn’t know what to do with her.) Hey, I don’t— What are you doing?
CAPT: (frowns at the doctor, then glances at the kitten again) From any part of you.
BIG ASS: (halts when he’s level with the water tub, turns to face it, and reaches two big hands inside it. They scoop under the kitten and lift it up.)
KITTEN/WHALE/CERCES: (blinks and looks down, little legs waggling as if unsure about what they’re supposed to be doing.)
CAPT: Big Ass, what are you doing?
SARA: (struggles against the doctor’s hands) Whale-kitty!
DR SOCKS: (grunts and puts the child down.)
BIG ASS: (pauses, looking at the captain while the kitten drips into the tub. Then he turns and trundles across to the bed on the other side of the room.)
(On the bed there, three kittens lie within a projected heat field. They don’t have any life signs in the display above the bed. The body temperature currently reports 25C and rising.)
CAPT: (keeping pace with the drone) Starry! What’s going on?
STARRY: (voice only) I’m not sure, captain.
CAPT: This isn’t you?
STARRY: Not, uh, entirely. He’s not going to harm the kitten, captain.
SARA: (scurries after the big drone as soon as she’s free of the doctor’s hold) Come back!
CAPT: Big Ass, put the kitten down.
BIG ASS: (hesitates, then slowly shakes his head at the captain. He comes to a stop beside the bed with the three kittens, holding his tiny black burden up high enough to see. A third hand points at the trio.)
DR SOCKS: (watching the drone) Is he supposed to be able to refuse orders?
SARA: (taps at the drone’s base with a tiny fist.)
CAPT: No, he’s not. And no, I don’t know. Starry?
Big Ass knows what he’s doing. This isn’t a whim or a glitch; he’s working perfectly. One of the few things inside my hull that is.
He’s holding the Cerces-kitten out at the other kittens, as if he thinks that Cerces can fix them. Like… like he did to our people, like he has done to Sara before. I see his logic now.
BIG ASS: (pushes Cerces-kitten closer to the three lying on the bed and shakes him a little bit. He points at the inactive kittens again.)
KITTEN/WHALE/CERCES: (looks around the room, nonplussed.)
STARRY: He believes that Cerces can bring them back.
CAPT: (blinks) I see. Can you?
KITTEN/WHALE/CERCES: (gazes at the captain.)
CAPT: The drone believes you can bring the kittens back from the dead. You’ve done it before.
KITTEN/WHALE/CERCES: (looks down at the trio on the bed. His head tilts to the side.)
BIG ASS: (watches the kitten, from the flicking of its ears to the sway of its tail. He points insistently at the kittens, as if that might help.)
SARA: (stops beating at Big Ass’s base and looks up at Cerces-kitten.)
CAPT: (holds out a staying hand) He’s trying.
BIG ASS: (lowers his pointing hand.)
DR SOCKS: (quietly manipulates his forearm interface, requesting additional diagnostic scanning of the three inactive kittens.)
There’s nothing obvious happening. I’m scanning all spectrums I can – which is quite a lot, even with my compromised capabilities right now – but there’s nothing out of the ordinary. No spikes I can’t explain.
And yet, something seems to be happening. The kitten is staring intently, Sara is grinning like a tiny fool, and everyone in Med Bay has fallen reverentially quiet.
I feel like the only one who doesn’t get the joke and can’t figure out why everyone’s laughing.
If I turn my sensors outwards, though, there is something curious. Black holes don’t emit anything – by definition, all they do is suck – but Cerces’s gravity isn’t as steady as it usually is. His level of suck is fluctuating, just a little bit, small enough so it’s barely noticeable. Even without my inertial dampeners active, it’s no danger to me or my people.
So maybe he is doing something, creating some kind of chain reaction that causes his hole-self to shiver and three little kittens to gasp and beat and live again.
They’re not there yet. The white one is twitching a little. It’s actually kinda disturbing. I’m almost expecting a mad-scientist cackle from the Cerces-kitten, with a cry of ‘IT’S ALIIIIIVE’ while a tiny cat staggers stiff-legged around on the bed. But the black kitten just stares and ticks his tail back and forth.
Localised power surges. I feel them now. Sparking life back into the kittens a few cells at a time. Barely more than static. Temperature is rising more quickly and the twitches ripple across all three of them. Nothing that is touching my systems, not even warping the holographic projections above the bed; it’s confined to its targets. Precise, controlled.
Nothing like when Cerces made his avatar. Nothing like that at all.
(Each of the three kittens on the bed flutters in tiny motions until a final wave passes over them. As the wave recedes, they gasp, and blink, and shiver to consciousness.)
CAPT: (picks Sara up so she can see.)
SARA: (beams happily when she sees the kittens and claps her hands.)
(The white kitten is the first to sit up, then get to its feet. It shakes its head and stumbles towards its sibling. The smaller tabby is up next, nuzzling the white fellow in greeting. It rubs its face with a paw and shakes itself from nose to tail.
The larger tabby isn’t so quick to get up. Blood begins to ooze from the wounds on its leg. Its head lifts and it mews softly.)
SARA: (smiles fades) Kitty hurt?
DR SOCKS: (steps forward, ordering a detailed scan of the tabby) Yes, it was injured worse than the others. (To Cerces-kitten,) You can’t fix this too?
KITTEN/WHALE/CERCES: (turns his head to look at the doctor.)
CAPT: What do you mean, the last time you’ll be able to do this?
(The two mobile kittens mew plaintively in response to their sibling, and go to nuzzle at the prone form.)
DR SOCKS: (picks up a syringe and programs a very small dose) So I’m not completely obsolete, then. Good to know.
STARRY: What did Cerces say?
CAPT: Apparently his resurrection abilities have a limited range.
STARRY: From what? His celestial self?
CAPT: (hesitates) Yes.
STARRY: This whole partial communication business is gonna get old real soon.
DR SOCKS: (administering the dose to the injured tabby) He says it’s your own fault for banning him from using any of the humans on board as his avatar.
BIG TABBY: (head drifts heavily down to rest on the sheet, eyes closing.)
STARRY: He can kiss my shiny metal ass.
STARRY: He can! I’m not apologising for that.
CAPT: We’ll work something out. Doctor, how is the patient?
DR SOCKS: Well, it’s a cat, not a patient. And I’m still not a vet. But it has three broken bones and some internal damage. Should be fixable. (He glances up and around.) I work better without an audience.
BIG ASS: (turns and carries Cerces-kitten back to the water tub.)
CAPT: (nods and carries Sara back as well.)
BIG ASS: (places Cerces-kitten in the water and releases him. One metal hand pauses and pets his head before withdrawing.)
KITTEN/WHALE/CERCES: (blinks and glances up at the drone at the petting.)
DR SOCKS: (looking at the bed and the small tabby trying to lick at the wounds helpfully) Uh, can you take these other two with you?
They’re all going to be okay. The kittens are alive. My people are fine. My prisoner/guests are mostly unconscious but also fine. My doctor might whine but he’ll get that kitten back on its feet before long.
It’s just me who got damaged, and only my boy Casper who might be irreparably harmed. I don’t want to lose him; it’ll break my heart if I lose him. I don’t know if I’ll be able to forgive Cerces for that.
But it could have been worse, so much worse. It has been worse before. I see two little kittens milling worriedly about on a Med Bay bed, and I dare to feel something like hope.
My systems can be repaired. Waldo is helping Elliott to line up the priorities, get parts where they need to be. Big Ass is heading off to lend his four hands to the job, too, now that his furry charges are doing all right. My boys will knock the dents out of my hull and put a fresh layer of paint on it. I’ll be fine.
My people will be okay, too. Lang Lang and Chief Cameron are heading down from the Bridge to Med Bay to welcome the strange new being on my decks. Lang Lang is almost bouncing on her toes as she walks; the only reason she’s not jogging is to keep pace with sober, steady Cameron.
My guests will wake up from their nap unhurt. We might even trust one of them enough to give her tools and ask her to help fix me up. We’ll drop them off someplace safe, like we promised, and they’ll go on and live their lives.
I am feeling better about this whole thing, like a weight lifted off my bulkheads. All this from two stupid little creatures who pause every now and then to lick themselves or kick at a spot behind an ear. All this from a miracle on my decks, performed right in front of us, breathing life where there is none. It was amazing even if some of my equipment might have been able to do it. Amazing because no equipment was necessary. Just a black hole and the weirdest kitten we’ve ever met.
ELLIOTT: (rubbing at his eyes) How about now, Starry?
STARRY: Ah, I have a connection now. Thank you! Starting diagnostics.
ELLIOTT: (pushes himself to his feet and heads across to the corner where Casper is sitting, inactive) Let me know when the scan finishes. Time to take a look at your boy here.
STARRY: Thanks, Elliott.
I wonder, if Big Ass shook the black kitten at Casper, would he be able to perform a miracle for me, too?