26 May

Back to the future

Ship's log, 12:43, 26 May 2213
Location: Grisette system
Status: In transit towards Grisette sol


Star Step drive initialising...


Here we go again. I’m heading in for a tight orbit around the blue-yellow star here while the cause of so much trouble awakens in my belly. The Step drive spins up and my skin comes alive, unfurling into Medusa strands that eat gravity. I start to swell with it.

The captain left it until the last minute to give us our destination. Everyone was frustrated with the lack of direction but it makes sense in hindsight; best to keep the saboteur guessing, give him or her as little chance to plan as possible.

We’re not going back to Corsica. It would be foolish to try – the pirates could still be there, waiting for us to do just that. Cirilli chomps her scientific bit about that, because by rights we should retrace our steps. For scientific repeatability, digital reciprocity, experimental balance, and other long, important words. We could be stumbling on and on into errors and never be able to find our way back. I can just imagine the discussions about that in the captain’s cabin. I guess he made his own bed there.

He seems happy enough with my piloting us through the Step again. Levi’s nose was put out of joint – because let’s face it, what is he here for, if not to fly the Steps? – but the captain would not be swayed. I feel a little sorry for Levi, being so new to the crew and completely useless. It’s no fun sitting on the outside of the action all the time. I don’t feel sorry enough to give up my helm to him, though; I’m only too glad to keep control right now. There are already too many hands in the mix. If only we knew whose.


Portal opening.


Here it is: here we go.

We’ve done this a few times now but it’s still exciting. There’s a thrill through my sensors when I see those ragged golden edges curl back. And there it is, that strange, shimmering portal that I can’t quite see through, even though it’s right in front of my nose. If I had lungs, I’d take a deep breath right now.


STARWALKER: (shipwide) Entering portal; Stepping.


Down in the cargo bay, Elliott is standing by the airlock, waiting for us to be clear of the portal. He ticks off five seconds from my announcement, then presses the release for the outer doors. The Beholder rises up and chugs his round, fat body outside, his patches surrounded by a new protective bubble.

I remember what happened to him the last time he was out here on the Outside. He was unpeeled while I stared at the pretty lights. Because they are beautiful, so beautiful, stealing the breath I don’t have. It is static and yet so alive. It pulses without changing hue or brightness. It’s like the whole universe has a heartbeat but I’m too far away to hear it; all I have is a flutter beneath the skin. It’s like closing your eyes and knowing that someone is standing next to you, feeling them without touching.

Remember the Beholder. Remember the way the Outside unmade him.

Focus on the golden threads in this cluster, this galaxy, and locate the one we’re aiming for. There, that one, a crisp corkscrew in the dark. I can hear Lang Lang’s voice murmuring directions in my ear while her fingers flick data up for me. Find the right spot on the curve and put the filaments to their work again.

Don’t look at the patterns of light outside the Milky Way. Don’t look too deep, or you’ll never look away. Who knew that the abyss could be so bright and beautiful? You can look down and down and down, where everything comes together, to light upon light upon such swallowing darkness, and–


Portal open.


Thank you, autolog. Here we go, popping out of the other side like a cork in a stream. My head is spinning. There are voices but it’s hard to hear anything except the light.


SW: (shipwide) Step complete.

CAPTAIN: (on the Bridge) Navigation, confirm position.

LANG LANG CARTIER: Calculating now.


I think the captain might have been talking to me before. It’s hard to know. There’s so much data out there noises from inside are another layer of confusion.


Filaments retracting.


CAPT: Monaghan, report.

ELLIOTT: (in the Cargo Bay) Beholder’s aboard, captain. No serious damage.

CAPT: And the ship?

ELLIOTT: Lights are green. A few minor pressure fluctuations, and a possible malfunction in one of the Step filaments. We’re fine for sublight, but I wouldn’t try another Step right away until that filament’s checked. See, I told you you shouldn’t have let Wong–

CAPT: Thank you, Monaghan.

ELLIOTT: (mutters.)


We collected another load of information to sift and build into our map of the Outside. I saw patterns out there, bigger than the star-paths we’ve mapped for our own navigation. That beautiful abyss is what it all comes down to, and from.


LANG LANG: Star chart comparisons confirm it, Captain Warwick. We’re in the Minkar system, Corvus constellation, in 2213. Exactly where and when we’re supposed to be.

EVERYONE: (cheering.)

CAPT: Thank you, Lang Lang.


I got it right. We can navigate through the Outside. Skirt the edge of that wonderful abyss and come out where we mean to. That’s where all of those bright lines start. Where all of us started.


CAPT: Starwalker, set course to the FTL corridor to the JOP.

SW: Course set, captain. Sublight engines engaged.


I think I know where the centre of the universe is.

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3 Responses to “Back to the future”

  1. steveballmer Says:

    Good story

  2. Xirena Says:

    I am sooo loving this story!! I love Elliot and his colorful observations. Starry is adorable, she seems to be at once very young and silly and very mature and serious. Like running away and hiding behind a planet shaking and shivering, in fact, she reminds me of a 6 month to 1 year old puppy, very protective yet quite playful and easily scared when the thunder rolls. This is quite a bit different than my usual genre yet I absolutely love it. SO what I am trying to say is excellent job, can’t wait to read more and I was quite happy to find a chapter where comments weren’t closed so I could encourage you, even if it means I am at a point where I will have to wait through the posting schedule from now on. :/ Oh well, all good things come to those who wait, lol. 😉

  3. Melanie Says:

    Steve – Thanks!

    Xirena – I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying the story! 🙂 Always a thrill to hear that I’ve gained a reader, especially one who doesn’t usually read scifi. Posting will resume soon, and I hope you enjoy what is yet to come!