Ship's log, 15:52, 15 July 2214 Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Docked and powered down
Live feed: portable sensor Location: Brig Level B
(The view bobs in a rhythmic, swaying motion, progressing steadily down a corridor with two white stripes running along the gunmetal-grey walls. There’s a soft, clanging thud at each point in the swaying of the visual feed, and the hiss of pressure shifting in cybernetic joints. There’s little sound from the corridor around the sensor’s bearer. Overhead, one of the lights flickers uncertainly.
A door approaches. A tag is stamped across it: Brig Section B12, Long Term Facilities. Approved personnel only.
The sensor’s progress slows to a stop and a hand rises into the left side of the view. It is covered in a leather glove, and moving metal parts can be glimpsed under the cuff. One heavy finger punches a code into the pad beside the door, prompting a disapproving bleep and a red flashing light.)
HALF-FACE: (sighing) Starry, it’s still not working.
STARRY: (voice only, over comms) It should be… give me a moment. I’ve almost got it.
HALF-FACE: That’s what you said at the last three doors.
STARRY: Hey, this system resembles tangled noodles. I’d like to see you do better.
(The hand rises past the sensor’s view range and the metal wrist flexes just within sight, as if the Lieutenant is rubbing his face.)
HALF-FACE: Okay, I’m sorry. Just warn me when–
(The red light above the pad blinks out, replaced by a steady green glow. The door clicks audibly and loosens from its snug fit into its frame.)
STARRY: (smugly) See, told you I almost had it.
HALF-FACE: So you did. All right, I’m going in. You have the life sign tracked?
STARRY: Yup. Third door on your left.
HALF-FACE: No sensor contact?
STARRY: The cell coverage is spotty at best. I’ve got nothing in four of the cells in that section. First and second on the right, third and fourth on the left.
HALF-FACE: Gotcha. Proceeding with caution.
STARRY: Stay safe.
(The gloved metal hand reaches for the door, while the muzzle of a weapon rises into position on the right side of the view. The hum of the gun’s power cells bleeds into the sensor feed.
The perspective shifts to look at the door from the side rather than straight on, and prosthetic fingers flip the panel open. Breathing rasps, tight and steady. A quick dip forward for a peek, then the sensor’s bearer slides smoothly into the corridor on the other side of the door. The weapon’s aim flicks from one side to the other, scanning.
All the doors are closed. Each one has a number starting with B12- and a viewing portal. The four doors identified over the comms have dark portals with a Disconnected message blinking in the corner; the rest show an image of the cells’ contents.
The sensor moves towards the first door on the right and a metal hand goes to check the security of the panel. No movement; it is locked. Same for the second on that side. The Lieutenant turns to look across the corridor.
The first cell’s portal shows an empty room with a cushioned bench across the back and a button to request the sanitary facilities. The second shows a smudge across the bench. The Lieutenant steps over to take a closer look.)
STARRY: Don’t bother with that one.
HALF-FACE: (stopping) But I see… that’s not the life sign?
STARRY: No. Third cell. That one… it’s a body.
HALF-FACE: (lowly) They died down here?
STARRY: (solemnly) I’ve scanned everything with sensors in it. It’s not the only one. I… don’t think we should dwell on it too much. There’s only one life sign down there; let’s focus on that.
(The perspective turns deliberately to the remaining two doors with disconnected portals. Momentum carries the sensor to the furthest one, and once again the panel is checked to make sure it is secure. It does not move.
The sensor is turned briefly towards the far end of the corridor, just a few more cells away. There, another locked door bars the way to the next sector. There’s no movement. The Lieutenant rotates slowly back to the door he came in by and a glimpse of the portal for the cell opposite the fourth door comes into focus. The light only shines on one side of the cell. A pair of shoes dangle in the top of the portal’s view.
The door to Brig Section B12 has closed behind the Lieutenant.
He turns to the third door on the left side, the one with the disconnected portal.)
STARRY: Your code should work on that one now.
HALF-FACE: Okay, thanks.
(The gloved hand rises into view and presses the code into the pad in the centre of the door. The light above it flicks green and something shifts inside the door’s frame. The panel begins to swing open on its own.
The view steps back and the weapon rises into view again, hovering with purpose in the lower right side of the sensor’s range. The door continues to swing open until it sits flush with the wall of the corridor.
Inside, the light is fitful and flickering. The walls are soft, quilted by staples that hold mattresses in place everywhere except where the sanitary unit folds out. The mattresses were white once, but now they’re stained, over and over with smears of brown and yellow and a sickly green. The floor bears similar marks, along with scratches in the hard surface as if scraped with a sharp implement over and over and over again.
The Lieutenant eases forward half a step. The weapon snaps from side to side, scanning the rear corners of the cell. The far right corner has a tray sitting in it with a bowl and cup, but no utensils. The bowl appears to be empty. There is no sign of the cell’s inhabitant.)
HALF-FACE: (lowly) Starry, you seeing anything at your end?
STARRY: I don’t see anyone. Do you?
HALF-FACE: Yeah. It’s fine. Not him.
(Another step forward. Attention dips into the corners closest to the door, then back again. The doorframe blocks the sensor’s view.)
HALF-FACE: (whispering) Got him, Starry.
STARRY: (quietly) You sure?
HALF-FACE: Not one I recognise.
STARRY: Okay. Be careful.
(The gloved hand rises towards the sensor, fingers growing giant as they close over the tiny cluster of input devices. The view shivers and blurs, unable to see past the thick leather. Flicking through different visual ranges, infra-red shows that the sensor is now being held by the cool metal fingers of the Lieutenant’s left hand and he is moving sideways into the room. In front of him, in a corner by the door, a humanoid heat pattern huddles.
The sensor is lifted up and pressed back, and then the mask of fingers falls away. Now attached to a high spot on the wall, the sensor can see most of the cell and both of the men inside of it. The Lieutenant stands near the centre of the room, his weapon trained steadily on the corner by the door. In that corner is the life sign that the Lieutenant came to find.
A man is folded up in that corner, all knees and elbows, with eyes narrowed at the intruder. He wears a stained coverall, stamped with a code that is most likely his prisoner ID: BH2213091446. Despite the worn-in stains and general air of stagnation in the room, as if it has dwelt this way for some time, he is clean. His skin is clear, his face is clean-shaven, and his blond hair is combed back from his face. He’s bent up so tightly that it’s hard to make out how tall he is, though he seems to be thin within the baggy confines of his coveralls.)
HALF-FACE: Brenn Haitom?
HAITOM: (mouth twitching at the corners, he stares up at the Lieutenant.)
HALF-FACE: Are you Brenn Haitom?
HAITOM: Hate? Hate hate hate. (His voice is scratchy from lack of use or too much screaming; it’s hard to tell.)
HALF-FACE: No, Haitom. Brenn?
HAITOM: (licks his lips, gaze flickering around the Lieutenant as if picking out details: his face, his hands, the gun, the weapons on his belt) Been here too long. Haven’t been here for a while now. Here and gone, here and gone. Flashes from the dark.
HALF-FACE: How long have you been down here?
HAITOM: Yesterday. And eternity. Time is a circle, around and around and around…. (He is abruptly staring into the middle distance, at something only he can see.)
HALF-FACE: Why are you in here?
HAITOM: …and around and around and around… spinning until I’m so dizzy. (He wobbles where he sits and blinks.) So dizzy.
HALF-FACE: Why are you here, Brenn?
HAITOM: (snaps his gaze up to the Lieutenant’s face again and his tone is suddenly sharp) No-one likes a smart-ass, y’know. Don’t see too far, don’t leap further than anyone else. They don’t like it.
HALF-FACE: I’m sure they don’t. Is that what happened? You went too far?
HAITOM: (huffily) Went nowhere. (He leans towards the Lieutenant without moving his lower half, cramming his chest up against his knees. His voice drops to an urgent hiss.) Saw everything. So much spinning. So many colours in the dark. White doesn’t own the colours, you know. The dark is jealous and doesn’t let them out. Keeps them all to itself.
HALF-FACE: (blinks and adjusts his hold on his weapon) Right, okay. So, uh. Don’t suppose you know what all the ghosts are about?
HAITOM: (eyes narrowing) Ghosts? No, no. Nonono.
(He abruptly surges to his feet, his limbs unfolding with spiderlike agility. He’s almost as tall as the Lieutenant but a fraction of his build. Thin wrists poke out of the sleeves of his coverall, and the fingers of one hand splay as if trying to grip a ball of air. The other hand is clamped around a plastic knife, the end of it gnawed to a twisted stub. From the looks of his fingernails, bloody around every edge, he has a habit of chewing on things.)
HAITOM: (hissing) That’s not it at all.
HALF-FACE: (tense in every line of his body, more focussed on his weapon and target now, in case the man should make a move towards him) Then what is it?
HAITOM: Colours. The dark wants all the colours. (His empty hand claws at the air compulsively, as if trying to draw it towards him.) Jealous of all of them. Keeps them. (The plastic knife wavers near his ear, halfway between a gesture and gouging his own skin.) Colours all in a swirl. Around and around and around, until we’re dizzy. So dizzy. (He blinks and wobbles.) Spinning…
HALF-FACE: Okay. I get it. Now, how about you put that thing down, yeah?
HAITOM: Spinning, fast and slow, and fast, and slow…
HALF-FACE: Please put the knife down.
HAITOM: (ignores the SecOff, turning to stumble to the rear of the cell.)
HALF-FACE: (shifts back a step to give the prisoner room to pass, blinking with indecision. His weapon remains up and at the ready, just in case.)
HAITOM: (at the back of the room, he presses himself against the wall, his head turned to look at the tip of the knife as he scrapes it down the mattress. It’s too blunt to cut the fabric but it makes a rasping noise. He mutters to himself.) Can’t have mine. My colours are mine are mine are mine. Can’t have them. Mine. Can’t.
STARRY: (over comms, pitched quietly for just the Lieutenant) I think you need to back away from the crazy person, Laurence.
HALF-FACE: (watches the man scraping at the wall with his blunted plastic knife and sighs softly. He sidesteps until he has come around far enough to back out of the cell. His weapon remains trained on the prisoner until he has cleared the doorway.)
HAITOM: My colours mine mine mine. Feed on someone else. Can’t have mine. (He stabs at the mattress ineffectively.) Too many colours in the dark, too many many many…
HALF-FACE: Close cell B12-6.
(The cell door swings closed and its locks snick into place.)
Live feed: station sensors Location: Brig Level B, Sector B12
STARRY: (quietly) You all right?
HALF-FACE: (lets his weapon drop to hang at his side by its strap and rubs at his face) Apart from what little skin I have crawling, yeah.
STARRY: So I guess we know why he was locked up.
HALF-FACE: Yeah. Guess he’s ‘Gyle’s problem now.
STARRY: Who– oh, Dr Valdimir. Yeah, seems so. You should come back up.
HALF-FACE: (nods and then hesitates, glancing down at himself. Fingertips touch the spot on his chest where the sensor had been pinned.) Damn, I left it in there.
STARRY: No, that’s good. Means I can keep an eye on him. That was good work, sticking it to the wall.
HALF-FACE: Oh. Okay.
STARRY: Just don’t tell Elliott; he’ll think you’ve been throwing his hard work away.
HALF-FACE: (starts for the door out of the sector, smiling lopsidedly) Noted, thank you.
STARRY: Better get up to the Lounge quick, before Rosie drinks all the beer.
HALF-FACE: (pauses at the door to the next sector and looks back over his shoulder. The door to cell B12-6 is still closed and its portal is still dark. His shoulders twitch and he pushes the door open.) On my way.
Location: Cell B12-6
HAITOM: (dragging the knife tip in a circle, plastic rasping) All the colours in the dark. I see them. See too far, all the way around and back again. Around and back, around and back… so dizzy. (He stabs the centre of the circle and closes his eyes, whispering,) And we all fall down.