Ship's log, 08:30, 1 July 2214 Location: On approach to the Cerces black hole Status: Sublight transit
This is not how this was supposed to go. I was supposed to leave my people behind: see them safely to the station and put their feet on solid decking, and then make my way to the black hole. I was supposed to end this project, once and for all, on my own.
And then Elliott comandeered a ship so he could come over here and jump into the void at me. So he could stop my heart as he drifted across the black.
He hits my hull and clings there for a moment. He has his mag-boots on, so he clambers to stand on my hull and walks towards an airlock. He slips and I almost choke with fear. I keep my course steady so he doesn’t fall off.
STARRY: (thickly) Elliott, what are you doing?
ELLIOTT: What the fuck does it look like? I’m coming in.
STARRY: I can’t let you. Needle, come back, pick him up. He can’t go where I’m going.
HALF-FACE/NEEDLE: Sorry, Starry, he’s all yours.
ELLIOTT: (crouches and bangs a gloved fist on the airlock door) Don’t make me hack this open, you tin-plated bitch.
He could do it, too. I don’t have a choice. So many things now where I don’t have a choice.
Why couldn’t he just let me go?
Location: Cargo Bay 2
(The airlock doors open and Elliott stumbles in. There’s a pause while it closes and repressurises, and then he’s able to step into the cargo bay proper.)
ELLIOTT: (tears his helmet off. Underneath, he’s pale and angry.) Show yourself!
STARRY: (appears a few paces in front of him with an unhappy expression) You shouldn’t be here.
ELLIOTT: No, you shouldn’t be out here! (He waves his helmet around wildly and walks over to her.) It’s you and me now. So what’re you going to do?
STARRY: (shakes her head) I… you know what I have to do.
ELLIOTT: Bullshit. No-one’s making you do it.
STARRY: The project has to be–
ELLIOTT: There are other ways! How many logic processors did you get banged up to think that this was the only way? We can rip out the Step drive, turn mid-deck into a goddamn bar if we want.
STARRY: But there’d still be me.
ELLIOTT: Yeah, that’s kind of my point. You were never part of the project.
STARRY: But it made me. We have to get rid of all of it.
ELLIOTT: And how do you know we’re done? Huh? How do you know we got all the other bits?
STARRY: We destroyed everything…
ELLIOTT: Yeah, that we knew about, and a couple of bits we didn’t.
STARRY: (expression falling) Yeah, we did.
ELLIOTT: So how do we know there isn’t any more? How do we know that someone’s not going to try to recreate it? We don’t know what went on in that lab while we were out- (He waves his helmet around again.) -flying around.
STARRY: We destroyed the data, they can’t. Unless they get me…
ELLIOTT: Goddamn it, Starry. Stop being a selfish bitch!
STARRY: (staring at him) What? I- I made sure you’d all be okay, that you were safe.
ELLIOTT: You made sure we had air and food and someplace with artificial gravity. What makes you think I’d be okay if you do this?
STARRY: You’ll be better off–
ELLIOTT: (hurls his helmet at her) Shut up!
(The helmet sails harmlessly through the avatar and clatters noisily across the deck behind her. She flinches anyway.)
ELLIOTT: That’s bullshit and you know it. You hear the captain shouting at you over the comms? You hear your drones telling you to come back? We need you, Starry. I need you. And I ain’t gonna let you do this.
STARRY: (tears running down her digital cheeks) But… I’m just a ship.
ELLIOTT: (tears off a glove and throws it through her) You really think I’d be out here if that was true? You really don’t have a fucking clue, do you?
STARRY: I don’t know what I am any more. After everything I’ve done… and, look at me, I’m a wreck.
ELLIOTT: That stuff can be fixed!
STARRY: We can’t fix all of it. Not what I did. I killed people. My own sister, Elliott.
ELLIOTT: Yeah, and I’m the one who installed the weapons, and the SecOffs did the firing, and the captain gave the orders. You think it’s all on you? We’re a crew, you fucking bitch. (He hurls his other glove through her.) You weren’t even going to give us a chance, were you? Did it matter so little to you?
STARRY: (flinching, struggling for words) I’m trying to do what’s right.
ELLIOTT: Fuck you, you’re wrong!
STARRY: That’s just it: I’ve never been right! I’m not a thing that should be. Not even you can fix that.
ELLIOTT: I don’t want to fix that! It’s not like a fucking hull breach. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with that side of you and I’ll tear the arms off anyone who tries to change it, you hear me? Including you.
STARRY: (stares at him, stricken.)
ELLIOTT: So what are you going to do, huh? You left all your hands behind, so you got no way to throw me out. Both of us or neither. What’s it gonna be?
STARRY: (quietly) I can’t hurt you. You know that.
ELLIOTT: You were fucking well going to anyway! You were just gonna leave me. So I don’t really know that, do I?
STARRY: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
ELLIOTT: Don’t be sorry. Just stop this bullshit.
STARRY: (head and shoulders drooping, she covers her face with her hands. Her shoulders tremble.)
ELLIOTT: (watching her, his scowl loses some of its force. He takes a step closer to her. His voice is still hard-edged but there’s a tremor in it, too.) You really going to leave me?
STARRY: (lifts her head enough to look at him and shakes it slowly.)
ELLIOTT: (fidgets, then folds his arms over his chest) Then turn your stupid ass around.
STARRY: (mumbles) Coming about.
ELLIOTT: (looks at her, huffs, then stomps around her to retrieve his suit gloves from the cargo bay deck.)
He didn’t have to do all that. He knew as soon as he stepped into my airlock that I wouldn’t be able to go through with it. He knew that I would have cut all power to my engines once he was on board. I’d never risk killing him.
But this isn’t all about me. He shouted at me because he needed to. And I don’t think he was talking about the crew anywhere near as much as it sounded like he was.
Elliott, my Elliott. What I wouldn’t give to hold you right now. Cling to you like a life raft.
STARRY: (turning to watch him, tears still bright on her cheeks, she whispers) I really am sorry.
ELLIOTT: (spins on his heel to shake a reclaimed glove at her) Just promise you ain’t never gonna pull any shit like this again!
STARRY: I promise.
ELLIOTT: I should fucking think so.
The edge is coming off his anger. He’s blinking a lot, like he’s holding back something. It’s okay, Elliott. It’s okay now. I won’t go.
My avatar cries. I feel like every part of me aches, the pain bright and pressing and strangely precious. But I’m lighter now. My internal pressure is still all over the place, between the breaches and the strained bulkheads, but it seems less now. I feel like I could fly faster than before, though there’s no difference in the power of my engines.
I don’t have to go.
He’s right: there might be other parts of the project that we don’t know about. Someone might try to rebuild it. And someone’s going to have to be here to stop them when they do. My work’s not done yet. Someone needs to talk to the stars, heal them when they get hurt.
So back to the station for me. Sorry, Cerces, there’s no meal for you today.
Wait, there’s a glint near the black hole. That’s weird. It’s holding position, burning just enough power to avoid being pulled in. I recognise that glint. If I roll to show it a side with more sensors on it, I’ll get a better view…
STARRY: Elliott, she’s alive!
ELLIOTT: (scowling at her) What? Who?
STARRY: (fresh tears stream down her face, but her expression is radiant this time) The Celestial!
It makes sense now. That hint of something I saw when I was outside the universe, the thing that didn’t make sense: it was the Celestial Strider, damaged and tumbling. The thing is, until I shot at her, she wasn’t damaged, and before that last volley of missiles, she was stationary. She didn’t do any tumbling; the missile blast must have shoved her through the portal towards me, took her out of the world and that’s what I saw: her tumbling through the portal and across the oustide. I didn’t destroy her after all.
She must have followed me through the outside. Got as far as Cerces and then didn’t have enough power to pull free. She’s stuck there, treading gravitational water.
She’s badly damaged. But she’s alive.
STARRY: We didn’t kill her, Elliott. My sister.
ELLIOTT: She coming to get us?
STARRY: No, she’s stuck in the black hole’s gravity field. We need to go pull her out.
ELLIOTT: (his head bowed over the refastening of a glove) Need to fix you up first.
ELLIOTT: (checking the seals on his gloves) We’ll work something out. Captain’ll have a plan.
STARRY: (expression fading) You think he’ll forgive me?
ELLIOTT: (shrugs without looking up.)
STARRY: (quieter) Will you?
ELLIOTT: (glances at her sharply) Maybe. (He snatches his helmet up off the deck and shoves it on.) I’m going down to Engineering.
STARRY: (nods) The way’s clear. (She turns to walk with him.) You’re nuts, you know that?
ELLIOTT: (grunts) You’re welcome. (The inner door opens, letting him out into the corridor. He turns towards the rear of the ship.)
STARRY: (after a few steps in silence) If I’d said no, would you have thrown a boot at me?
ELLIOTT: (glances sideways at her) Maybe.
STARRY: Never had someone so angry with me that they’d strip, before.
ELLIOTT: Yeah, well, let’s not make a habit of it.
STARRY: I won’t.
ELLIOTT: How long until we dock?
STARRY: Ten minutes. Think the captain’ll shout at me, too?
ELLIOTT: Probably. Once he’s done changing his pants.
STARRY: He might have trouble doing that. There’s a breach across his quarters; I think his spare pants floated off around Feras.
ELLIOTT: (looks at her, then bursts out laughing.)
STARRY: (beams at him.)
I’m broken and breached. I have warped bulkheads and so many systems failing over that I can barely keep up. I’m down to maybe 40% power.
But I have an engineer who can fix all that, who knows how to put me back together, even when I can’t see it myself.
I have a little sister who needs me.
Back on the station, I can feel silence fall in the docking junction as my drones stop hammering on the airlock. They know I’m coming back. It’s going to be all right.
We still have work to do and I mean to do it.