Captain's log, 11:21, 30 June 2214 Location: Dock Alpha 62, Feras, Lambda 1 system Status: Docked and powered down Log location: Captain's cabin
Every time I open this log these days, I wonder if it’s for the last time. Things will start to happen soon and then there won’t be any time for logging, no time for reflection or consideration; just reflex and adrenaline.
I suppose it’s good to take this time while we have it. So here I am, recording yet another log, without truly knowing whether or not posterity wants it. But that is not the only reason we do it. This is our story, I suppose. The journey of our spirits through this tale, the perspective of the hearts and minds who made this path possible. As we inch towards the precipice, I hope that this log offers some indication of our true intentions, in case they lead us to hell.
We are waiting here at Feras’s dock, patiently trying not to count the time that has passed since Dr Lorena Cirilli and Lang Lang Cartier left for the project lab, deep within the metal planet. One of the ship’s drones went with them, to help hide the explosives they take with them and maybe offer some protection. So far from Starry’s influence, he might not be able to do much on his own cognizance. At the very least, the regular update bursts we get from him have helped us to track their position and progress.
It has been painfully slow. We had hoped that they would be back by now, but they’ve been gone more than a day.
It’s hard not to remember Lang Lang’s face before she left and the fear she was trying not to show. This mission isn’t at all the kind of project she signed up for and it isn’t well suited to her spirit. But she is trying anyway, because she believes in what we’re trying to achieve.
Sometimes, I think the same about Starry. She wasn’t built for battle and the things we ask of her are changing her. At the same time, I don’t think she’d have it any other way, knowing what she knows. She has evolved, and I don’t believe we’ve seen the end of her transformations. This week, she sounds different to the last, and I suspect that, given another few days, she’ll be altered again.
We are all changing now. Hardening in preparation for battle. I can only hope that our preparations have been enough.
It has been a long time since I have won a battle as a captain. Since I lost my family, I have run and I have failed in battle. Have I learned enough to bring us through this? Will I get it right this time? These are the things I ask myself when there’s no-one else to hear me. This is what I demand of myself when I look in the mirror, before I pull on the captain’s mask for the day.
Is it ever enough? We have planned and planned, run through so many scenarios, but even as unused to campaigns as I am, I know that plans evaporate as soon as the fight engages.
A part of me wishes that it would happen already, that this endless waiting would end. The rest of me knows that I’ll hate it when it arrives.
We are on track. For now, that is what matters. It took longer than anticipated for Lorena and Lang Lang to get to the lab, but they went inside the shielding of the R&D levels earlier this morning. Communications have been difficult – the R&D levels are locked down for the security of the projects they hold – but they should be at work now, placing devices and uploading the doctor’s virus into the data systems. Their last transmission was promising. We should hear from them again at any time now.
In the meantime, Feras’s Port Authority has been chewing at us to undock and clear the way for another ship. We can’t risk being delayed by docking queues when our crew need to be picked up, though, so we’ve been dancing around, making excuses for not leaving. To account for the time we need to stay here, we’ve rush-ordered some parts; Monaghan was only too happy to provide me with a list of requests. Starry was reluctant to open her cargo bays to Is-Tech’s staff, even to accept deliveries, but she obeyed when I asked her to.
As her captain, I have to wonder if–
Location: Captain's cabin
STARRY: (appears abruptly in front of the captain’s desk.)
CAPTAIN: (starts and stares at her, sitting back in his chair with surprise) Starry? How did you…
STARRY: Sorry! Wide Load just piped me an update. There’s a problem.
CAPT: (surges to his feet) What happened?
STARRY: Not sure; he didn’t have time to send many details. But I think that Cirilli and Lang Lang have been made.
CAPT: (swears softly and jogs for the door) Get them out of there.
STARRY: (drily, turning to follow him) Sure, I’ll just beam them up, shall I?
CAPT: (sends her a flat glance) What did the drone send, exactly?
STARRY: A message from Cirilli. She said that we shouldn’t wait; we should head on with our task and come back later.
CAPT: (scowls, rounding the corner and arrowing for the Bridge) That lab won’t be there later.
STARRY: Yeah, I know.
CAPT: (entering) Can you raise them on comms?
STARRY: They’re still in R&D; it’s too protected. Security filters are killing my ability to get them. I’m working to see if I can get Wide Load again, but every time we open a channel, we only have a few seconds before the watchdogs close it down.
CAPT: (swinging into his seat) How long between channel openings?
STARRY: Minutes, potentially. Elliott’s bringing up a shifting algorithm, see if we can slip away from their grip, but I can’t guarantee we’ll have more than twenty seconds once I get a connection.
(Cameron and Rosie jog in from either door at the rear of the Bridge, making for their usual stations. SecOff Laurence is only a few steps behind them, his metal legs hissing as he hurries to a console.)
CAPT: And it’s the same as all of our comms so far? Assume someone’s listening?
STARRY: (shrugs, taking up her usual position near the captain’s right side) I think we have to.
CAPT: Delivery status?
STARRY: Latest batch completed delivery in Cargo Bay 3 a few minutes ago. Big Ass is stacking it away.
CAPT: Close up the–
STARRY: –airlocks? Yes, already on it. Closed up, ready to seal when we’ve got clearance.
CAPT: Good work.
STARRY: (smiles abruptly at the praise. Then she blinks and gestures to the hologram forming in the centre of the room.) Comms coming up. I have Cirilli. Twenty seconds only, captain.
CAPT: (nods as Dr Cirilli’s heads and shoulders resolves before him) Doctor?
CIRILLI: (over comms) I won’t make it back like we had planned, John. I have to stay to make sure the project comes to its rightful end.
CAPT: (sitting up straight) Lorena, you can’t–
CIRILLI: There’s no choice. If I don’t stay, we can’t be sure it’ll go the way we need it to.
CAPT: You’ve been compromised?
CIRILLI: Yes, and–
CAPT: So get out of there.
CIRILLI: I can’t, John, you know that. We have to make sure this ends. I can finish what we set out to do here, but I have to seal the lab.
CAPT: Lorena, don’t do this.
CIRILLI: I have to. And you have to go. You have to disengage before they put a lock on the ship. They haven’t made a move yet, you still have time.
CAPT: Leaving people behind was not the plan. I’m ordering you to get back here.
CIRILLI: (looks at him sadly) I was always the head of this project before I was a part of your crew. I’m sorry, John, but no. There’s no other way. They’ve done more work here than we knew. It’s the only way to be su–
(The hologram flickers and disappears.)
CAPT: (shooting to his feet) Get her back!
STARRY: Searching for a channel. They’re going to trace us if I keep doing this.
CAPT: How the hell did this happened? Chief?
CAMERON: (looks up at him and shakes her head) They could have figured it out a number of ways, captain. We knew this was a risk.
CAPT: (scowls at his Chief of Security, though he doesn’t seem to be blaming her) Starry, get them back on comms. I don’t care what you have to do. (He hesitates, then sinks into his seat grimly.) At the same time, request clearance to undock.
STARRY: (eyes widening) But how are they going to get back to us?
CAPT: (darkly) We have to assume they can’t, whether we’re here or not.
STARRY: (nods numbly) Requesting clearance.
CAPT: Cancel the comms line. Connect only with the drone.
STARRY: Data only? Okay, adjusting the channel search.
CAPT: Then adjust the parameters of his mission. Tell him to get Lang Lang out of there and back to us.
STARRY: But Cirilli…
CAPT: (looks at the ship’s avatar and her voice trails off, as if the answer to her question is right there between them) Just do it, Starry.
STARRY: (nods) Yes, sir. We’re cleared for undocking; they’re quite happy to rush us out of here. Do you still want us to disconnect?
CAPT: Yes. Get us out of here.
STARRY: Going through exit protocols now. I’ll take us back to standard orbit.
CAPT: Chief, get the next part of the plan lined up.
CAMERON: On it, sir.
CAPT: And someone figure out what she meant by them having done more work here. If there are more parts to this project than we’ve accounted for, we’d better find them, and fast.
CAMERON: Brasco, Laurence, get on the data feeds. I want to know everything about the comms traffic on the colony since our crewmembers went into R&D.
ROSIE: (punches at her console controls tensely) Yes, ma’am.
STARRY: We’re clear, sir. Coming around to standard exit vectors.
CAPT: Any problems yet?
STARRY: Nothing from Feras. They’re busy aligning the next ship for our docking space. If Cirilli really was compromised, they haven’t been able to track her back to us.
CAPT: (muttering) Too busy with the refugees.
CAMERON: (without looking up from her console) Red tape has its uses. It could buy our people enough time to get out.
CAPT: One of our people, yes.
CAMERON: (glances up at the captain, but opts to say nothing.)
CAPT: Starry, did you contact the drone yet?
STARRY: Still searching for an unblocked channel. I’m slowing to half-speed; if we get much further away, I won’t be able to reach him.
CAPT: Get it done.
STARRY: As fast as I can, sir.
CAPT: (scowls at the floor for a moment, then pushes himself out of the captain’s chair) Good. Send the doctor the log of the conversation with Lorena and tell him I’m on my way.
CAPT: (turns on his heel and stalks off the Bridge. Long strides carry him down the starboard access corridor, and he drops down to where Med Bay nestles in the centre of the ship.)
Location: Med Bay
DR SOCKS: (looks up from his desk, where a small version of the comms discussion is playing. At the sight of the oncoming captain, he waves the recording into a pause, leaving Dr Cirilli’s calm, determined face hovering in the air.)
CAPT: (stops in front of the desk and leans over it towards the smaller man, bracing his hands on the surface. Cirilli’s face almost bumps his chest.) Tell me you didn’t know she was going to do this.
DR SOCKS: (meets the captain’s angry gaze levelly) Do you want the truth, or should I lie?
CAPT: I’m not kidding around here, doctor. Did you know?
DR SOCKS: The truth, then. I think we all knew. (He raises an eyebrow.) Didn’t we?
CAPT: (glares at the young doctor, then lets his head drop. His long hair sifts forward over his shoulders, creating a curtain around the little projection.)
DR SOCKS: (opens his mouth to say something, but the image of Cirilli’s face catches his eye and he closes his lips again.)
CAPT: (lifts his head enough to see the doctor’s face) You’re supposed to inform me of anything like this.
DR SOCKS: I’m supposed to inform you of anything I notice that might impede our mission or the future well-being of the ship.
CAPT: (stares at him, briefly stunned into speechlessness.)
DR SOCKS: (meets that stare without flinching, showing neither guilt nor remorse.)
CAPT: (pushes himself up off the doctor’s desk, ice sliding into his voice) Don’t ever withhold something like this from me again.
DR SOCKS: (inclines his head in acknowledgement. His gaze flickers to the captain’s hands and back up again.)
CAPT: (turns his back on the doctor and strides out of Med Bay. He pauses at the corner of the corridor and pinches the bridge of his nose, struggling to control his breathing. His chest rises and falls carefully, then he shakes his hair back and straightens his shoulders. He glances at his hands, as if wondering what the doctor had noticed, and frowns at the little green light pulsing above his left wrist. Turning for the Bridge again, he flicks a finger over it.)