07 Nov

Distant sister

Ship's log, 16:21, 13 July 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked and powered down


My captain and SecOffs are in Iggulden’s cave. I can’t see in there. I don’t like it.

I’ve run diagnostics on the sensor network in that sector, and all I’m getting is ‘disconnected’ messages. There are supposed to be working sensors there but they appear to be missing. If that’s where Iggulden is living, he must have done it on purpose.

At least that explains why he has been so hard to locate.

I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing, though. I don’t have any choice about the sitting, but I still have some resources at my disposal. My drones might be busy with repairs but the doctor was able to be put to use.


Recording: 15:54, 13 July 2214
Station Location: Visitor's Lounge

(The doctor is sitting at a table, manipulating a portable interface to scroll through logs.)

DR SOCKS: Is this all you have of him?

STARRY: Yes. Iggulden has been staying out of sensor range, remember?

DR SOCKS: (sitting back in his seat and waving the display off) Well, it seems that he has adjusted to the situation on the station. He’s using that device on his wrist to determine who is real and who isn’t. I dare say he’s probably using it on his food as well.

STARRY: But he was… with a ghost…

DR SOCKS: He knows they’re not real. I didn’t say he cared that much. In fact, that’s probably the appeal.

STARRY: I think I feel sick.

DR SOCKS: You’re a ship. How can you feel sick?

STARRY: Just– never mind. What else can you tell about him? Is he dangerous?

DR SOCKS: (smiles to himself) Hard to say from the little bit I’ve seen. No red flags. He doesn’t carry a weapon and didn’t react aggressively to the appearance of real people. So, not paranoid. Not looking for a fight.

STARRY: I’m sensing a ‘but’.

DR SOCKS: But without seeing what he’s got in his den, it’s hard to say for certain. He may just have been caught out of his comfort zone.

STARRY: He didn’t seem uncomfortable.

DR SOCKS: True. Like I said, it’s hard to say for certain. I wouldn’t suggest that the captain let his guard down with this guy, if that’s what you’re looking for.

STARRY: Okay, thank you, doctor.

It wasn’t a great deal of help, but at least we can have hope that Iggulden isn’t a freak leading them into a set of traps or some kind of weird torture dungeon. Psychological profiling is supposed to be one of Dr Valdimir’s specialities, so if he doesn’t think there’s anything screaming to be worried about, we can all take confidence from that.

I’m keeping a close eye on the life signs coming out of that area, anyway. No worrying blips so far. And I sent the captain a summary of the doctor’s report, so I know the comms work. It’s tempting to listen in, but the captain told me not to worry and I’m trying to keep my nose clean. I’ll peek if I spot anything strange in the life signs. That’s my plan.

I’m up to 65% of my processing capacity. It’s just enough to have room to worry.

I should busy myself with other things. Use my returning capacity to do something useful.

In all the searching for other life signs, we forgot that we already know where there are some. Not on the station, not even nearby, and they’re unlikely to have any answers for us. But they’re probably experiencing what we are now. They’re probably wondering what’s going on, too.

They probably hate us. We’re the reason they’re here, after all.

The Celestial Strider. My sister ship, stuck on the edge of the black hole, unable to move forward, barely able to prevent herself from slipping backwards into the dark maw of Cerces.

I should have reached out to her earlier. I’ve barely had enough resources to think about my own people and everything we’re dealing with here. I feel like I’m making excuses, but I’m a little afraid to contact her. What if they’ve suffered the same fate as those on the station? What if she’s an empty ship left out there, holding steady because that’s the last thing her captain asked her to do?

I should talk to my captain. Ask what he thinks I should do.

No, I can’t disturb him; he’s doing something important down in the bowels of the station. What he finds out there might help all of us.

And I don’t need permission for this. There’s nothing wrong with checking on them, seeing how they are.

I can do this. Should I tell them it’s me? No, they won’t like that. The Starwalker shot at them, blew them up, and led them to this haunted place. I’m the reason they’re bobbing around on the event horizon of the black hole. I shouldn’t cause problems when I don’t have to. I have to route the comms traffic through the station’s antennae anyway; they’ll never know it’s me.


External comms channel: Sarabande Station array

STARRY: Hailing the Celestial Strider. This is Sarabande Station. Celestial, please respond.


No response. Ten seconds, and still no response. Where are they?

I wonder what time it is on board. Were our clocks synced? I have no idea. We’re synced with the station now, but maybe they’re all asleep on board the faraway ship.


STARRY: Hailing the Celestial Strider. This is Sarabande Station. Is anyone there?


Hmm, nothing. Could their array be damaged? No, they hailed the station when we first arrived; they could speak then. Unless their systems have degraded, they should be able to hear me.

If there’s anyone left.

Why isn’t the AI responding?


STARRY: Hailing–

CELESTIAL STRIDER: (male voice, human) We hear you, Sarabande. What do you want?


He sounds grumpy. I must have woken him up.


STARRY: Hello, Celestial! Good to hear from you. How are things over there?

CELESTIAL: Still waiting for that rescue you promised us.

STARRY: We’re working on it. Repairs are underway.

CELESTIAL: You’re taking your sweet time about it. What’s the hold-up?

STARRY: We’re a bit short-handed here. Working as fast as we can, though. We’ll be with you as soon as possible. Listen, have you guys noticed anything… strange, out there?

CELESTIAL: (guardedly) Depends what you mean by strange.

STARRY: Anyone on board having hallucinations? Seeing people who aren’t there? Imaginary food?

CELESTIAL: Yeah. We figured it was… something that happened on the way here.


They think it’s a side-effect of the Star Step? Something they picked up while passing outside the universe? I suppose that would make sense. Time and space are all the same out there. Who’s to say that we didn’t scoop up something we shouldn’t have while we were out there?

But that doesn’t explain Sarabande. This isn’t my fault; I’m sure of it.


STARRY: No, it’s a local phenomenon. We, uh, are experiencing it here on the station as well. It started some time before we– before you arrived.

CELESTIAL: Really. Huh. How do we stop it?

STARRY: We’re still working on that. Your sensor outputs will show you what’s real.

CELESTIAL: Yeah, we figured that much out. But it’s… still not easy to deal with.


Oh god, I hope this isn’t my fault. The effect couldn’t have rippled around in time, could it? Surely it doesn’t work that way?

Who am I kidding: we have no idea how this stuff really works. It’s an experiment.


STARRY: How long have you been experiencing the hallucinations over there?

CELESTIAL: Since a day or two after we got here. Why?

STARRY: We’re just checking on the consistency of the phenomenon.


Only a day or two? That’s fast; faster than it happened for us. Less than half the time it took for the first reports of glimpses of people.

Strange. In one of the logs I found, it reported that a ship that hadn’t docked with the station had had a faster onset of sightings, too. I wonder if their position had something to do with it. Could they have been closer to the source? Could they have been… oh, I have an awful inkling.

I just need to verify the position of that other ship. The Albatross. The station should have a record of its orbit or path around this area. There! For once, they recorded something of use, exactly where it should be.

Shit. I was right; the Albatross was between the station and Cerces. Closer to the black hole. Could that be the source? How?

The Step portal was at the black hole, but it didn’t exist when the Albatross was there. So it couldn’t be that. Could it? Could it be something to do with the black hole itself?

Another piece falls into place. And– oh, the ship is still speaking.


CELESTIAL: You’re seriously still looking into this? Is that another way of saying that you don’t know what the hell is going on?

STARRY: We’re in the same position you are, Celestial. We all want to figure this out. We’re doing everything we can.

CELESTIAL: We’ve been out here nearly two weeks! You’ve got a station full of people over there; surely you can work faster than this!

STARRY: Actually, we’re on a skeleton crew here. The hallucinations have decimated our population. Thousands died.

CELESTIAL: Are you kidding me? You’ve lost thousands of people and you still don’t know what’s causing it?

STARRY: We’ve only just arrived and started our–

CELESTIAL: We’ve got these fuckers crowding us on our own ship and you’ve got no idea what’s going on? Can’t even get a rescue ship over here? And you call yourselves a fucking space station?

STARRY: We’re in the same position you are–

CELESTIAL: Bullshit! We’re playing catchup on our own systems, chasing failures around in circles to avoid blowing out the propulsion. Do you have any idea what we’ve had to do just to stay where we are? We’ve already lost people to this goddamn ‘phenomenon’ of ours. You hear me?

STARRY: Oh god, Celestial, I’m so sorry to–

CELESTIAL: Shove your apologies! We need you to fix this, not apologise. Get us the hell out of here.

STARRY: You’re our top priority, Celestial, I promise. We’ll do everything we can to get you out of there as soon as possible.

CELESTIAL: Well do it faste– (The voice cuts off abruptly, and the sound of shuffling comes over the comms line. Then a new voice sounds, female and weary.) Sorry, Sarabande. We’re under a little strain here.

STARRY: (weakly) That’s all right, Celestial. We understand.

CELESTIAL: (female voice) Appreciate you checking in on us. Don’t be a stranger now.

STARRY: We’re here if you need anything. Just call.

CELESTIAL: Will do. Celestial Strider, out.


Shit. If I had hands, they’d be shaking right now.

The captain needs to know about this. But he’s busy. Elliott’s wiring my brain back together, and there’s nothing he can do anyway. He’s working as hard as he can. There’s only the doctor around; maybe he can shed some light? Offer some hope?

No harm in trying. Every brain helps, right? And the doc is supposed to be smarter than most.

We’ve got a new piece to the puzzle. One that’s starting to make an awful kind of sense.


Station sensors: live feed
Station location: Visitor's lounge

DR SOCKS: (stretches and wanders over to one of the long windows along the curving outer wall of the lounge.

The window has a reasonably clear view of the starscape beyond the station’s docking arms, which are mostly empty right now. The bulk of the Starwalker is off to the right, out of the way of the view. Right now, the dark bulk of the Cerces black hole is passing the slow turn of the docking ring and its lounge and swallowing up the light from distant stars.)

SARA: (curled up on the deep windowsill. She stares outside with fascination.)

DR SOCKS: (watching the child curiously) Sara, what are you looking at?

SARA: (jumps and looks up at the doctor, her eyes widening as if expecting him to shout at her.)

DR SOCKS: (sighs and crouches so that he’s on a level with her. He keeps his voice low and gestures to the window.) What’s out there?

SARA: (gazes out of the window again) Whale.

DR SOCKS: Isn’t that the name of your toy here? (He tugs on the tail of the stuffed whale that sticks out from under her arm.)

SARA: (shakes her head and splays a hand on the window) Whale. (She hugs her toy to her side more tightly.)

DR SOCKS: (frowns at the nothingness of the black hole.)

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14 Responses to “Distant sister”

  1. Lokira_San Says:

    Well… It seems like the Strider isn’t holdign up very well. I will, however, tip my hat tho the engineer(s) aboard that vessel for keeping it running enough to not fall into that black hole.

    I was wondering when someone would check in with the Strider. They are another source of info about all of this and an answer could stem from studying what all has been going on with them.

    Now, about that whale thing…….

    Why am I having visions of a whale and a potted petunia falling from low orbit onto a hibernating and largely forgotten world? xD

  2. thomas Says:

    Wow, so it us an actual entity causing the hallucinations! I just thought it was something inherent to the black hole. It does not surprise me Sara knows about the entity but now I wonder if she can communicate with it too and what else she knows. Obviously, I do not understand the whole black hole yet.

    Thanks Melanie for the latest chapter.

  3. thomas Says:

    Just thought of something Melanie. Is the whale a red herring? I feel like we got setup.

  4. Medic Says:


    You know her. She loves to give us just enough room to speculate, and laugh while we hang ourselves on wrong ideas. 😛 What’s so sad? We keep going back for more!

    “Ok little ducklings, follow mamma.” Hey! We should play a game where we come up with different analogies for Mel. See? She’s the momma duck(author) leading us(ducklings) where she wants with her story. See it works. 🙂

    *hides from Mel and any flying objects from her direction*

  5. Glitch(TMG) Says:

    Wait a minute… Mass hallucinations? Possible psychic phenomenon/cosmic eldritch abomination? Effect worse when closer to the black hole, ‘whale’ can be seen in that direction…wait, “whale”?


    Hello there, finally decided to get off my butt and make a comment. Been following this series since Book 3 (maybe even before the end of book 2, I can’t remember when I first picked it up, it’s been awhile). I -love- this story so much, it’s such a different take on an AI-focused tale. I couldn’t even begin to list all the things I like about Starwalker, and now that I’m finally commenting, I’ve forgotten everything I thought about saying in the past. xD Ah well. In lieu of that, please do continue with this most excellent story!

  6. Salrissa Says:

    Hmm – if stars can have avatars, can ex-stars (ie, black holes) be sentient to?

    Thank you for your fantastic storytelling!

  7. MarSig Says:

    I wonder if Iggulden was wearing one of those anti mind reader hats – hehehe – I keep getting this image of Doc from Back to the Future wearing that minding reading hat when meeting Marty at the front door. I’m weird I know 🙂

    Here’s what I’m thinking – Start Thought – A black hole is basically an star imploded by it’s own gravity – sooooo – what happens to a stars avatar when it implodes – No wonder there’s a screw ball effect. – Goto Start Thought

    Sara Sara Sara – even more curiouser and curiouser

  8. colm Says:

    I’m surprised Starry didn’t pickup on the reference to the rescue. The Celestial apparently was in contact with the station while it was still functional.

  9. Francisco Says:


    I think it was Starry and her crew that got in touch with Celestial Strider.

  10. Glitch(TMG) Says:

    Erm…okay, so, it’s been more than two days since I posted my first comment…and, the whole time, it’s had a ‘your comment is awaiting moderation’ line above it, and my comment isn’t visible if I look here from another computer, yet other posts have been made…what gives?

    (And darn, looks like anything in chevrons is parsed as an HTML tag, ate up a joke in my first post…let’s see. [test] {test})

  11. mjkj Says:

    Ah, a star-ghost… 😮

    @Glitch: Do not forget it is NaNoWriMo and Melanie is part of the team and doing it herself – so she is quite busy. And you only need to be approved once – every post after that goes up immediately (until you get disapproved I guess).


  12. Melanie Says:

    Catching up on comments again!

    Lokira_San – hee hee, I didn’t do that reference consciously, but it’s pretty fitting, I think! Well spotted. 😀

    thomas – me? Juggle red herrings? Naaaaaah.

    Medic – what I find most hilarious is that my writer friends call me the exact same thing: Mother Duck. (This is mostly because the best way to get a group of writers moving is apparently to stand up and start walking – they follow, like little ducks.)
    Now I’m wondering what this says about me…

    Glitch(TMG) – hi and welcome! So sorry for taking so long to get your comment approved – I was away on a Writer’s Retreat when you commented (I was actually running the Retreat) and it took me a little while to catch up after I got home again. mjkj is correct – you only need to be approved once and there won’t be any delays now that’s done. 🙂

    So happy to hear you’re enjoying the story! Hope to give you lots to comment on in the upcoming chapters.

    Salrissa – good question! And you’re welcome. 🙂

    MarSig – hee hee, now I have that image of Iggulden in my head. Scary!

    colm – Francisco is correct: Starry spoke to the Celestial Strider about the rescue just after they arrived (posing as the station). She’s still waiting for her engines to be fixed before she can go help them out.

    mjkj – quick, someone throw a sheet over it so we can see it. 😉

  13. Glitch(TMG) Says:

    (Now that comments are finally working again)
    Ah. I didn’t know she was doing a NaNoWriMo. Seems a little odd to me that she’d be undertaking that at the same time, but hey, if she can manage that, more power to her.

    (I wonder if anyone gets my “Suul’Ka” reference above…probably not, as it’s a rather obscure reference…but dang if this whole situation doesn’t sound just like the shenannigans of the Icehearts/Winterminds/Stonesouls…)

  14. Melanie Says:

    Yes, I’m doing NaNoWriMo again this year. Writing, running events, it’s a whole big thing.

    I considered taking a hiatus from Starwalker for it (because I’m writing something else for my NaNo project this year), but decided against it for now. It seems to be working, so it’s all good.

    I had to look up the Suul’Ka reference! It’s not a world I’m familiar with. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one of those, hiding where you can’t see it, waving its tentacles at us…