Ship's log, 13:37, 19 July 2214 Location: Near Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Adrift, engines disabled
He’s actually coming. I had half-expected him to refuse and stamp off in a huff. Am I prepared for this? I don’t know. All this processing power and not a clue about what to do.
Engineering immersion chair active
Shit. Here we go.
Log location: Internal ship's systems, Node 1294-HR2
(Elliott’s avatar resolves and a sensory representation of the ship’s systems comes into focus around him, as if constructed for his benefit.
It’s not the smooth, clean world he’s used to in here. Pipes of brightly-coloured data twist all around him – over, under, and in snake-like tangles on either side of him – close enough for him to touch. They’re neon-bright against the black backdrop, and they create a bumpy surface under his booted feet.
A nearby processing node is a chaotic cluster of light and data transformations. It looks like a nest of snakes is eating it. Through the gaps between data lines, the fitful glimmer of other nodes can be seen in the distance, connected by tangled wires and interminable space.
Elliott turns slowly on the spot, his tense expression clamping down into unhappiness as he takes in the scene. He lays a hand on a data pipe and the colour flushes brighter in response. Curiously, he pushes at the pipe; it bends like a rubber hose.)
(There’s no immediate answer, so he starts walking where there’s enough space for him. After a couple of steps, he’s forced to start pushing the pipes aside with his hands so he can get through.
Suddenly, a hand grabs his elbow and yanks him to a stop.)
STARRY: Elliott, look out!
ELLIOTT: (looks down. Under his next step, yawning blackness falls away from him. He swallows and stumbles back a step.) What the hell?
STARRY: Sorry, it took me a moment to figure out where you came in.
ELLIOTT: Not that. That. (He nods to the gap before him, and crouches to peer cautiously down into it.)
STARRY: Oh. That’s where I’ve been processing the station’s sensor feeds. I shut it down when we undocked.
ELLIOTT: (leans out to gaze down into it, but there’s only darkness down there. He rises again, shaking his head as he looks around.) Fucking hell, Starry.
STARRY: (glances around and sighs, running a hand through her hair) Yeah, it’s a bit of a work in progress in here. Hold on.
(The ship’s avatar takes Elliott’s hand and closes her eyes. The world ripples. Data lines writhe away from the two avatars, opening up the space around them. The surface under their feet smooths out and panes of glass rise at the edges of the lit plain they’re standing on. The sky is still hidden behind a ceiling of pipes, but they have room to move around now.)
ELLIOTT: (runs a glance over the transformation, but for the most part he watches Starry) What’s going on in here? It’s a mess.
STARRY: (opens her eyes again and gives him a shy smile, releasing his hand) I’m still getting my systems embedded on the new hardware. Hooking up with the station complicated things.
ELLIOTT: There’s way more data traffic than there should be.
STARRY: Yeah, I had to duplicate all the systems. First, when I started to lose hardware, for failovers. Then again to migrate everything back into place. It’s taking longer than I thought it would.
ELLIOTT: Why didn’t you tell me?
STARRY: (tilts her head at him) It’s not a problem; there’s nothing wrong in here. It’s just a bit messy. And you’ve had more important things to worry about.
ELLIOTT: (scowls at her) That ain’t for you to say.
STARRY: (expression faltering) I… no, I know. And if there had been a problem, I’d have told you about it. I promise. You’ve been working so hard on the rest of me. I said I’d sort this part out, and I am doing it. I’m just not finished yet.
ELLIOTT: (looks off across the little plain at the cluster of data pipes that make up a wall.)
STARRY: I’m reorganising things while I’m at it. I can show you, if you’d like?
ELLIOTT: You brought me in here to look at your new filing system?
STARRY: (frowns) No. Did you come in here to shout at me?
ELLIOTT: (looks at the ship’s avatar) No.
STARRY: (can’t meet Elliott’s eyes for long; her gaze drops away.)
This isn’t how I hoped this would go. I don’t know what I hoped would happen, but it wasn’t this.
ELLIOTT: So what did you bring me in here for?
STARRY: To talk. To… maybe not talk, I don’t know.
ELLIOTT: Any time you wanna start making sense is fine with me.
STARRY: (draws in a deep breath and lets it out, before she turns her gaze to his face again) We haven’t really talked – or been in here together – since, since before Feras.
ELLIOTT: You wouldn’t let me.
STARRY: There was too much damage! It wasn’t stable enough for you. You’d have been hurt.
ELLIOTT: Yeah, you said that.
STARRY: And I meant it.
ELLIOTT: (looks off across the empty plain, frowning.)
STARRY: It’s not that I didn’t want you in here! Of course I did. I just couldn’t risk you. You know that.
STARRY: So stop looking like that! Like I just… like I…
Treated him like Tripi did. Used him and then didn’t want anything to do with him.
Oh god, is that what he really thinks? He thinks I’d do that?
STARRY: Dammit, Elliott, what do you want me to say?
ELLIOTT: (looks up at her with surprise) I don’t know. You’re the one who said you wanted to talk. Is this some weird girly thing?
STARRY: (stares at him helplessly) I… what?
ELLIOTT: Where we talk about our feelings and shit?
ELLIOTT: Because I really don’t…
STARRY: (throws her hands up) I just don’t want you to miss me any more!
ELLIOTT: (stares at her.)
STARRY: I don’t have any answers. I don’t know what’s going on between us. I don’t know what this could be, or, or how you feel, or even how I feel half the time. But I’m right here. I’m here. And I don’t want you to see me anywhere else any more.
ELLIOTT: (rubs the back of his neck) This is about the ghost?
It sounds silly when he says it like that.
Am I jealous? Is that it? Because he can touch her whenever he wants but he has to come in here to touch me. Is that what I’m upset about?
I should have run out the logic paths before I got him in here. I should have figured this out. Stupid ship. Stupid, stupid.
STARRY: Yes. No. (She shakes her head.) It’s about… what the ghost means. I don’t know.
ELLIOTT: What it means? Doesn’t it mean that I’m attached to you?
He’s right. It means that much. Gotta keep it straight. But it’s so hard; the human parts of my processing are getting in the way.
It feels like my heart is racing. As if I’m walking some kind of tightrope but I can’t see how long the drop is. I have no idea how far I might fall if I slip.
STARRY: But… you’re only supposed to see people who aren’t here. And I don’t understand. Is it that you can touch her? (She touches fingertips to the back of his hand.) Any time you like? Is that what it is?
ELLIOTT: Hell, I don’t know! I just see her. I don’t summon her from anywhere. She lurks around the place, same as the rest of them.
STARRY: (eyes widening) Do you see her in here?
ELLIOTT: What? No. (He turns his hand over to snag at her fingers.) No! I don’t see any of them in here.
ELLIOTT: Fucking hell, Starry. (He lets out a breath, glancing around. The colours shift in the data pipes but otherwise everything is the same.) Look, I don’t know what to tell you. I just wish things would go back to how they were. Goddamn ghosts.
STARRY: (watching his face) How they were before when? Before we went up against Is-Tech? Before we wound up here? Before…
ELLIOTT: (flicks a frown at her) What are you asking me? You’ve got that tone like… fuck, when did you turn into such a girl?
STARRY: Probably around the same time you made me feel like one.
ELLIOTT: (mouth falls open, then he looks down at their joined hands. After a moment, he laughs drily and shakes his head.) Just my luck.
STARRY: (blinks and tugs her hand free) What?
ELLIOTT: (trying to catch her hands again) No, I didn’t mean… look, I’ve never been any good at this stuff.
STARRY: (draws back out of his reach) And you were drunk.
STARRY: Well, you were. And I’m not a girl, so none of it should matter.
ELLIOTT: No! (He pursues her. When she lifts her hands away from his, he catches her head instead, holding her face between his hands.) No, it wasn’t like that. I mean, I was drunk, yes, but that’s not what it means. That’s not why. It does matter. (He looks at her and swallows, looking as caught as she is.) It matters to me.
STARRY: (relents and rests her hands on his wrists) Me too. (She closes her eyes and leans her cheek into his palm.) Why is this so hard?
ELLIOTT: (expression softening once she’s no longer looking at him) Fucked if I know.
STARRY: (sighs and shifts forward to slide her arms around him) Are we okay?
ELLIOTT: (holding her with a trace of awkwardness but no hesitation) Yeah, I think so.
STARRY: (blinks and lifts her head back enough to look at Elliott’s face) That’s why I asked you in here. I want us to be okay. Whatever we are, whatever… happens. You and me, we have to be okay.
ELLIOTT: Well, uh, I’ll try.
STARRY: You don’t think this is going to work?
ELLIOTT: (frowns and touches her cheek) I ain’t gonna make you promises I can’t keep, Starry. I’ll try.
ELLIOTT: But I ain’t good at this stuff. Never have been.
STARRY: (hands curling in the fabric of his avatar’s shipsuit, bunching it up) Did we mess things up, with what we did?
ELLIOTT: (lips twitching at the corners) Fuck, I hope not. Half the time I think that’s the only thing we managed to do right.
STARRY: (lets out a breath full of relief and rests her forehead on him) Yeah. According to my files, anyway.
ELLIOTT: You compared what we did with your files?
STARRY: I gotta get context from somewhere. Why, what did you compare it with?
ELLIOTT: I– that’s not– all of your files?
STARRY: You compared it with all of my–
ELLIOTT: No! I didn’t compare it with anything!
STARRY: (lifts her head to look at him, grinning.)
ELLIOTT: That’s not funny.
STARRY: It’s a little bit funny.
ELLIOTT: (smile tugging) Shut up.
STARRY: (shrugs and leans in to kiss him instead.)
ELLIOTT: (pulls her in close.)
He’s right: this part we get right; it’s the words that trip us up. It’s trying to make sense of everything that seems right when we’re not talking. It’s trying to define something that doesn’t live in data or logic processors or a neat filing system.
Maybe this thing isn’t going to work. Maybe these strange, stolen moments is all we’re good at. I guess we’ll find that out.
For now, this is what we have. And maybe it’s enough to drive the ghosts back.