10 Sep


Ship's log, 14:33, 4 October 2214
Location: Standard orbit distance from the Cerces black hole horizon
Status: Orbiting


This isn’t at all what we had in mind. I know we were a little bit rushed getting here but this is ridiculous. It isn’t supposed to be happening like this!

Right now, I’m standing on my own Bridge surrounded by zombies. My crew have all wobbled to a halt and are staring into space. My passengers too: Kinski on the Bridge and all of his crewmates down in the crew quarters. Even Haitom is the same; his broken-headed state doesn’t make him exempt.

I check life signs, and everyone is perfectly healthy. I can feel their heartbeats, all of them, and the air passing in and out of their lungs. I can even feel the warmth of their skin, radiating gently in my atmosphere. Their bodies are present and correct, but their minds… Where are their minds right now?

Only Sara is acting normally. I guess she’s different, as the only person able to easily communicate with our big, invisible brain in the sky. It’s a shame that she’s too young to be able to translate fully for us. Hell, it could be a fucking disaster.

My doctor is caught up in this. He’s going to be furious. I can monitor the basic life signs but I’d really like his expertise on hand.

And my captain, I need him, too. He’s the one who wanted to do this! He knows what questions to ask.

Now it’s just me. A lady made of light trying to talk to a black hole with the help of a small child.

I guess I’m going to have to be of some use in this endeavour after all. And here I was thinking I was superfluous.


Location: Bridge

STARRY: (approaching the captain, who is standing motionless in the middle of the room) Captain? Captain, can you hear me?

CAPTAIN: (blinks.)

STARRY: (glances over her shoulder to where Sara is sitting on the floor and wiggling her stuffed toy about. The child isn’t paying attention. The ship sighs and looks at the man before her again. His eyes don’t focus on her.) Cerces? Can you understand me?

CAPT: (doesn’t respond.)


How am I supposed to know if this is working? Tap its head and ask ‘is this thing on?’

What if the captain and all of my people are talking to Cerces on the inside? What if they’re in some kind of shared neurological landscape, where they can communicate freely and easily? Cerces understands our language, thanks to Kess’s involvement. What if they’re all chatting away in there and I’m distracting them?

I don’t like this. Too many what-ifs, too much uncertainty in the data. Even my human side doesn’t like dealing with this number of unknowns. And my people, halted and vacant; no, I don’t like this at all.

I’m trying not to pay too much attention to Elliott, sitting in the chair behind my avatar. He’s motionless, like the rest. He’s staring into space, like the rest. I can’t focus on his readings and fret over every little data-point. He’s fine. They’re all fine. They’re just not… here. He’s not here.


STARRY: (goes to crouch next to the child, summoning up a smile) Sara, honey, is Cerces– is the whale talking to my people?

SARA: (looks up and nods.)

STARRY: Can you tell what he’s saying?

SARA: (shrugs.)

STARRY: But they’re talking to each other? And they’re… they’re okay?

SARA: Whale’s talking. (She nods.)

STARRY: (frowns) What about my people? Are they talking?

SARA: (leans towards Starry) Little whispers. Shhh, listen.


Listen, she says. To what?

…oh no. Oh nonono.




Location: Crew Quarter E



Location: Crew Quarter D

RIEDE: …my…


Location: Bridge

CAMERON: …people.


That’s so not right; I can almost feel tiny claws skittering over my hull. Not right at all. I just want to get the hell out of here.


STARRY: (staring at the room) Oh god. Sara, if I talk to them, can the whale hear me?

SARA: (shrugs and shakes her head. She strokes the fur of her stuffed whale the wrong way to make it stand up.)

STARRY: Sara? Sara, please, I need your help, honey. How do I talk to the whale?

SARA: (shrugs.)

STARRY: (dips her head down, trying to catch the child’s lowered gaze) He wants to find his people, right? I want to help him do that. Will you help me make him happy? You want him to be a happy whale, right, like that little fella in your lap?

SARA: (looks up and nods solemnly.)

STARRY: Okay. Will you relay a message to him for me? Seeing as you’re his special girl.

SARA: (smile kindling) Sara special.

STARRY: Yes, you are. Will you tell him that we want to help, we want to go find out what happened to his people?

SARA: (expression clouding.)


Oh, this is going to take forever. Now I see why the captain was struggling earlier. How reliable is a two-year-old’s brain as a relay? To make him understand, I have to make her understand.

Then again, I’m a fucking idiot. I’m a ship; I don’t have to use words for this.


STARRY: (beams at the child) I have something to show you. Do you want to see?

SARA: (nods, pigtails bobbing.)

STARRY: (sits down beside the child and gestures towards the centre of the room where a hologram shows the slowly spinning black hole, with a small dot representing the Starwalker in orbit. The ship’s dot is currently resting just above the captain’s shoulder.) That’s your whale, right? A picture of him.

SARA: (nods, attention transferring easily to the hologram.)

STARRY: And he’s thinking of a time, long ago. A long, long time ago, when there were planets around him. (The hologram shifts, moving away from the captain and into a more open area on the Bridge. The golden dot that was the Starwalker disappears. Instead, small, coloured balls of planets appear and trace circles around the black centre, which morphs into a large, orange star.) He was different back then, too.

SARA: (stares, transfixed by the moving light patterns.)

STARRY: Back then, he was bright and shining. There were lots of people on those planets. The whale’s people. Those are the ones he misses now, aren’t they?

SARA: (expression falls and turns sad.)

STARRY: (nods) I know, it’s very sad. I love my people, too. I’d miss them if they went away. And my people, they all came from somewhere else. They miss their home, too, and their homes miss them.

SARA: (glances up at Starry, hugging the whale toy to her chest with confusion.)


Dammit, I’m losing her. Have to keep it simple. What am I trying to tell Cerces? What do I need him to understand?

His people. He’s always whining about his people. Let’s focus on that.


STARRY: It’s very sad when people leave, isn’t it?

SARA: (nods.)

STARRY: Yeah. One day, all of Cerces’s people left. There weren’t any planets here any more, and they had nowhere to stay. (The hologram shifts again, the planets fading away and the star darkening.) They had nowhere to live here, with Cerces, so they had to find a new place. (The hologram shows a swirl of small dots around one of the planets, spiralling out from the disappearing surface and coalescing into a group. The group makes a determined line away from the blackening star.)

SARA: (sadly) All gone away.

DR SOCKS: Where…

KINSKI: …my…


Location: Crew Corridor

HALF-FACE: (standing guard outside the crew quarters) …people…


Location: Crew Quarter E



Location: Bridge

STARRY: (to the child) Yeah, they’re all gone away now.


Okay, I don’t know that’s what happened. I only have glimpses of what this system was like when Cerces was still a shining star. I have some data on the planets and I can make an educated calculation of which one was likely to have supported life. I even have some data that shows some ships in the region, which are most likely his people exploring their system.

But I can’t say for sure that they were able to escape his collapse. Were they capable enough to flee the system? Establish viable colonies in other systems? Survive somehow?

It doesn’t matter, not right now. I can’t prove that what I’m saying is true; the story is what’s important, and where it might lead us.


STARRY: Cerces misses them, and we want to help make him feel better. You want that, too, right?

SARA: (nods.)

STARRY: His people aren’t here, so we’re going to have to go look for them. To do that, we have to leave. Follow them, so we can tell them that Cerces misses them. (In the hologram, a little golden light sweeps out from circling the black hole and chases after the group of tiny ships.) Then we can bring them home. You understand?

SARA: (nods and then shakes her head.)

CAPT: Don’t…


This fragmented talking is very frustrating. They overlap, talking at once and in the wrong order. I’m going to filter the speech into a single input and see if that helps.


Location: everywhere

CERCES: Don’t leave me alone.


Oh good, that’s much better.


STARRY: (to Sara) I know he doesn’t want to be left alone, but we have to go so we can bring his people back.

SARA: (hugs her whale tighter, her eyes sad.)


Location: everywhere

CERCES: Don’t leave me alone. Don’t. Don’t. Stay.


The fragmentation is getting worse. I know we’re spreading the neural load among many different minds but this is ridiculous.


STARRY: (frustrated) You can’t have it both ways! We’re not leaving people here, they deserve their own lives. Sara deserves to grow up like a person, not some weird brain-mate of a black hole.

SARA: (looks confused.)


Great. I can’t even shout at him. This is hopeless!

He can’t have his people and eat them too! How can I explain it to him? Do I dare try when he might stamp his foot and lobotomise every person I care about?

Deep breath, deep breath…


STARRY: Sara, ask him how he wants us to do this. How are we supposed to find his people if we don’t leave?

SARA: (eyes filling up with tears.)

STARRY: Oh, don’t– I’m not angry with you, sweetie. Don’t cry.

SARA: (plaintively) Whale.


Location: everywhere

CERCES: Stay. Stay with me. Go with me.


STARRY: What? You can’t go with us; you’re a goddamn black hole. Sara can’t tuck you under her arm like her stuffed whale.

SARA: (sniffs and blinks, expression brightening. She looks down at her whale and plumps his head.)

STARRY: No, I said you can’t–


CERCES: Go. Stay. With. Me.


I must be parsing it wrong. But that’s what they’re saying. Is the message getting muddled in their heads? Is our communications system broken? Is our Rosetta stone cracking under the pressure?

I don’t want to ask the next question. My logical projections are rattling at me, flashing possibilities and I don’t like any of them. But how can I not ask?


STARRY: (looking at the adults in the room) How? How could that work?

SARA: (hugs her whale cheerfully and waggles him from side to side.)


EVERYONE: (except Sara and the ship) Avatar.


The captain is going to kill me.

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7 Responses to “Cake”

  1. Mike Says:

    Oh! This is a cool twist 🙂

  2. thomas Says:

    Thanks Melanie

    Okay, Moby lost me. I need a processor upgrade. Maybe a cybernetic brain would help.

    So if the Captain leaves with Moby’s reanimated, then Moby dies. I guess people like Sara might die too. if Moby can go with them, does Elliott need to convert a cargo hold into a really huge fish tank? Kess’ avatar lived in the same environment as her people, so ….

    Is that too weird? Deep space travel with a ginormous whale tank.

  3. Marcus Says:

    A fun chapter.

    “Is that too weird? Deep space travel with a ginormous whale tank.” Not ‘weird’, exactly, but whales do have experience with time travel and saving the Earth.

  4. Shantien Says:

    @thomas: Star Trek IV. That is all.

    Marcus knows. 😉

  5. Francisco Says:

    So avatars can exist outside their planetary system? I did wonder about that.

  6. mousefu Says:

    You have me hooked. Best scifi I have ever read barr none including published hard copy books.
    Not once have I found my attention wandering, skipping parts or checking when it ends and giving that so far there are 4 novels that is really saying something.

  7. mjkj Says:

    Yup, I was wondering why he did not have an avatar already…