04 Feb

Anomalies and strategies

Ship’s log, 22:27, 5 October 2214
Location: Standard orbit distance from the Cerces black hole horizon
Status: Orbiting

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

(From an open vent high on the cargo bay wall, there is an echo of soft squeaks, followed by a metallic scrabbling sound.)

 

Location: Engineering

(An upper access panel is open. Elliott floats a metre away from it, one hand anchoring him to a counter. On the other side of the panel, Lieutenant Laurence is aiming a rifle directly at the opening.)

STARRY: (from behind the engineer) Elliott, move to the side!

ELLIOTT: What? Why? Where the fuck is she?

HALF-FACE: (thumbing his weapon, which emits a buzzing noise in response) Dineen, show yourself, right now.

ELLIOTT: (realising that he’s in the Lieutenant’s direct line of fire) Oh, right. Fuck. (He kicks off the counter hurriedly, floating for a railing on the other side of Engineering.)

 

Location: Cargo Bay 4

(The inner airlock doors whisper open and Big Ass drifts through them with a grace that belies his size and unwieldy configuration. A brief tug on a handle swings his body around to face the control panel and he starts the airlock cycling around him.)

 

Location: Lower level access corridor

(The captain pulls himself along head-first, using one hand on the railing that threads the length of the corridor. Sara has wriggled around to lie against his back, her hands gripping his shoulders, but she’s comfortable enough now to have her head up, watching the process of their travel curiously.)

SARA: (cheerfully) Kitty soon.

CAPTAIN: Yes, we’ll be there soon.

 

I still wish the captain wasn’t heading down there. We don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I can contain the damage.

I want to lock the access panel he is approaching, but he’s my captain. Of all my people, he’s the only one who can command me to violate my protective protocols.

I have to trust that he knows what he’s doing. I have to try.

And I’m sending Casper down to shadow him, just in case. He never said I couldn’t watch his back.

 

Location: Engineering

ELLIOTT: (catching himself against the railing, he twists to scan the room behind him. His inertia in zero-G pulls his weight awkwardly against his grip on the rail.) Starry, you got her on sensors yet?

STARRY: I’m trying, Elliott, but she must be… you can’t see her either, can you?

ELLIOTT: (teeth gritted) No.

STARRY: She must be using some kind of light projection technology. And sound dampening. I can’t even pick up her heartbeat

ELLIOTT: Probably doesn’t have one. (Louder, towards the open access panel,) Taser the bitch!

HALF-FACE: Dineen, last chance.

 

Shit. I have my sensors scraped raw, analysing every tiny pico-fluctuation in light and sound and air disturbance. Elliott’s whole body is shouting at me. I’m twitching at shadows. I’m… there, by the door. There’s a spot that’s too quiet.

She’s masking too much. She’s the silence. That’s how I find her. If I zoom in, she is the stationary patch in a shifting swirl of atmosphere and dust.

Gotcha.

 

Location: Engineering access

STARRY: (voice only, pitched very soft and close to the Lieutenant’s ear) I have her. Just inside the upper right side of the door from where you are now.

HALF-FACE: (presses his lips together and pushes off the right wall of the access corridor. He brings his aim around as he drifts, getting a better angle on the spot Starry described. He doesn’t give another warning; his finger moves on the trigger.)

DINEEN: (from inside Engineering, voice only) Hold on! Don’t fire.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 4

(The outer airlock doors open and Big Ass gives a little nudge off the edge of the control panel. He pinwheels out of the opening, describing a perfect arc that ends with his tracks touching the ship’s outer hull. Mag-clamps engage to stick him to the hull and he trundles across the outer surface as the airlock doors close behind him.)

 

Location: Engineering

(To one side of the open access panel, the air ripples uncomfortably, then seems to shatter in a shower of light motes. Within its circle is the Strider’s engineer, April Dineen, with the fingers of her left hand pressed to the inside of her right elbow.

Her right forearm looks like it has exploded into curls of metal. Spiky and prickled with lights, the silver tendrils shiver and shift. Then they un-curl, straightening and melding together with a series of clicks until they form a regular-looking human forearm, hand, and fingers. There’s a brief shimmer, then the metal is covered with what looks like human skin matching the rest of her dark complexion, but is probably another hologram.)

ELLIOTT: (staring at her arm) Fuck.

HALF-FACE: (doesn’t pull the trigger immediately, drifting forward) Anchor yourself against the railing to your right. Now.

DINEEN: (sighing, she obeys, curling her human-looking hand around the railing just behind her) All right, now. There’s no need to panic.

ELLIOTT: (glancing over the rest of her) You disabled the collar.

DINEEN: Hate these damn things. (The collar is still around her neck, but two bits of metal wire poke out from a nub at the front, spoiling the otherwise smooth lines of the device.)

HALF-FACE: You’re an escaped prisoner. Turn around and face the railing.

DINEEN: I came down here to help.

ELLIOTT: (snorts) Yeah, right. Help yourself.

STARRY: (glares at the woman and folds her arms over her chest. Then she blinks and the expression is gone.) Brace yourselves! Gravity fluctuation detected… (She points towards the spot below the access panel, on the forward section of Engineering.)

DINEEN and ELLIOTT: (grab hold of their respective railings with both hands as their feet are drawn towards the spot Starry pointed at.)

HALF-FACE: (partway through the access panel, he’s pulled sideways into the frame. Grimacing, he twists so his body is lying along the corridor wall while trying to keep the aim of his weapon on Dineen.)

(Metal groans as the anomaly forms, invisible but incredibly attractive. Parts and loose tools slide out of the places they have been hovering, falling towards the wall. Some bounce off soft human bodies on the way.)

ELLIOTT: (winces and pulls himself up so he can wrap his arms around the railing, not trusting his grip) Fuck. Was that my favourite wrench? How long, Starry?

STARRY: They only last a few seconds, hold on.

ELLIOTT: What d’you think I’m doing?

HALF-FACE: (groans and his hands shake. Giving up on his aim, he pulls his rifle ponderously back until he can brace it against the corridor wall.)

STARRY: Laurence, you okay?

HALF-FACE: (strained) Heavy.

ELLIOTT: Well, you are mostly metal.

DINEEN: (dangles from her railing, feet pointing at the forward wall, apparently unphased. The railing under her right hand squeaks faintly at the pressure of her grip.)

STARRY: Almost done. Hold on.

 

I can’t do anything to help them. I can’t even send in one of my boys to help, if I had one to spare; my drones would just get pulled into the anomaly. My hologram just stands there, impotent and pointless.

 

(There’s a particularly loud metallic complaint and the knot of metal on the forward wall shudders.)

ELLIOTT: (twisting his head around to look at it) Starry, what the hell…

STARRY: Bulkhead’s warping.

ELLIOTT: Fuck! I gotta…

STARRY: You gotta stay where you are. Fix me later. You can’t stop it, Elliott.

DINEEN: (voice strained) I can help.

ELLIOTT: Fuck off with your ‘helping’!

DINEEN: Gravity-based technology is one of my specialities…

ELLIOTT: Oh, and we’re just going to take your word for it, are we?

STARRY: Shut up, the pair of you! You can’t do anything right now! Except you, Elliott, you need to get on the other side of that railing.

ELLIOTT: What? Why?

STARRY: There’s a trolley coming loose aft of you. Move, now.

ELLIOTT: (grimacing as he struggles to pull himself up against the weight that has been given to him) Okay, okay, fuck.

 

Rosie is just outside the other Engineering door, plastered against the wall too, and she’ll have to wait until this anomaly passes, too. Elliott has to undo his work to let her in.

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. It’s taking too long; longer than before. Cerces – it has to be him – is getting stronger.

 

(The repair trolley trembles against the locks holding it in place under the counter, struggling with the weight of the parts inside its drawers and compartments. One of the locks hadn’t engaged properly and a second one gives way. The trolley rotates out from under the counter, turning on the remaining lock.)

ELLIOTT: (clambers heavily over the railing, struggling to get his upper half over it.)

STARRY: Hurry!

 

Location: Lower level access corridor

CAPT: (coming to a stop before a closed hatch) Starry, report.

STARRY: (voice only) Dineen located. Anomaly in Engineering. Dealing with it.

DR SOCKS: (drifting in from an adjoining access corridor to starboard) Captain?

CAPT: I would like you to accompany me to—

STARRY: Might need you in Engineering, doctor.

CAPT: Might?

STARRY: Anomalies are worsening, it’s getting dangerous. Stand by.

 

Location: Engineering

(The trolley shudders and finally breaks free of its moorings, tumbling end over end as it twists its way out from under the counter and across to the forward wall.)

STARRY: Elliott!

ELLIOTT: (has most of his body folded over the railing. He kicks his legs up and tries to roll out of the trolley’s path. It bounces off his ankle as it passes, a corner passing an inch from his head.)

(Abruptly, objects within the room are drifting rather than falling.)

STARRY: Careful, the anomaly is gone.

ELLIOTT: (scrabbles to grab the railing to avoid rebounding away from it.)

(The trolley is still tumbling towards the wall, and impacts it with a metallic clang. Parts and tools of various sizes, freed from the hold of the gravity pocket, bounce and reflect away from the impact and the wall. Pinging off each other, they spray out into the middle of the room.)

DINEEN: (swings herself to the other side of her railing to try to avoid the worst of the plastic and metal rain.)

 

Oh, good, that’s so much better.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

(From the open vent, there’s a whisper of movement in the shadows. Then, all at once, a tumble of furry limbs emerge, emitting a chorus of tiny mews. A bundle of kittens drift into the open, gravity-less air of the cargo bay, separating into four distinct bodies.

Paws scrape at the air, trying to find purchase where there isn’t any, and the kittens mew their unhappiness. There is a black one, a white one with black feet, and two tabbies.

At the vent mouth, Bit and Byte catch themselves before they follow the kittens out. Mag-clamping their tiny feet to the vent walls, they survey the results of their work.)

BIT: (points at the larger of the two tabby kittens and holds up five fingers.)

BYTE: (points at the black kitten and holds up six fingers.)

 

Location: Lower level access corridor

CAPT: (looking at a holographic readout above his left forearm) Starry?

STARRY: Assessing the damage and injuries, sir. Bulkhead’s twisted and I’ve got a couple of leaks in there. Shutting off water and air in that section. I’ve lost some sensors and access to a backup filestore.

CAPT: How many more like that can you take?

STARRY: Two, maybe, if no critical systems or damaged bulkheads are hit. Depends where they are. But, I won’t need to.

CAPT: Explain.

STARRY: The spiral has altered, following the movement of our little furry friends. If Lang Lang’s predictions are correct, next anomaly should hit the cargo bay.

CAPT: They’re there?

SARA: (happily) Kitty!

STARRY: Ready and waiting.

CAPT: (nods thoughtfully, glances at the access panel, but doesn’t activate it.)

DR SOCKS: (drily) Am I needed in Engineering?

STARRY: No major injuries. Waiting to see if they’re hurt or just whining. Stand by.

DR SOCKS: Is it worth pointing out that it’s not actually possible to stand right now?

STARRY: Only if you want to be a smart-ass.

 

Location: Engineering

HALF-FACE: (has pushed himself over to where Dineen is, ignoring the debris that bounces off him. He is spraying her hands as they hold the railing with a substance that solidifies immediately, securing her in place.) Stay exactly where you are.

DINEEN: (ducking a spanner) Are you crazy? I can help.

HALF-FACE: (is unmoved and focussed on the secure-spray.)

STARRY: Elliott, are you okay?

ELLIOTT: My fucking tools are attacking me. What is this, karma day?

STARRY: Listen, you said you might be able to counter the gravity fluctuations.

ELLIOTT: Yeah. If I modify one of the generators, I might be able to get it to do that. But I’d have to know which one.

STARRY: We know which one is next. But we only have a few minutes before the next one hits. And… it’s going to be a big one.

ELLIOTT: Bigger than that?

STARRY: It’s gonna find what it’s looking for. Can you do it in time?

ELLIOTT: (ducks and grabs the wrench about to hit him in the head) Fuck. Uh. (He meets Starry’s gaze.) Well, I guess we’re about to find out.

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4 Responses to “Anomalies and strategies”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Awww…

    Well, what a nice way to show you want to help 😉

    …and Starry found a way to detect Dineen…

    *hugs Starry* 😀

  2. thomas Says:

    Interesting, I wonder if Cerces has already found his avatar. Or is Dineen’s specialization in gravity just a red herring? Maybe (s)he really is offering help as an avatar.

    Btw, what was the five and six about?

    Thanks for a great chapter Melanie

  3. Spencer Says:

    Wow, Dineen’s arm is a really cool technology! Even more so if it somehow manipulates gravity or something, as her specialization would suggest. Where can I get one?

  4. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – ahahaha, indeed. Yay hugs!

    thomas – cool idea. Dineen does seem quite well suited to being a black hole’s avatar.
    The tiny bots might have been placing bets. Maybe.

    Spencer – I love making up fun and freaky tech. I think you’ll have to wait a few decades, though. 😉