21 Jul

Dragonslayer

Chief Engineer's log, 03:01, 21 July 2213
Location: Corvus FTL Corridor, Minkar System
Status: Stationary

 

The doctor says I should talk about what happened. I thinks he means to him, but fuck that. I’m not here to satisfy his curiosity and I don’t need any of that counselling crap. I don’t care if he is qualified in brainology or whatever. I plan to bury this log once I’m done. Maybe transfer it to a digisheet and melt it with a blowtorch.

He’s been going on at me every day since I woke up. What’s that, over a week now? Fine, I’ll do this if it gets him off my back.

Hard to know where to start. I don’t remember a lot of it – it all blurs together, and, you know, I don’t want to think about that stuff anyway. It was a fucked-up dream at the time and I’d like to encourage it to fade like one. Eventually I won’t remember the details at all.

The only part worth talking about is when Starry turned up. I didn’t even know it was her – I thought she was all part of the nightmare. I was spread out on the ground – there wasn’t really any ground, but that’s the closest I’ve got – and Tripi was sitting on me, laughing. I couldn’t move, couldn’t fight her. She just did whatever she wanted; kissed me or cut open my chest and stuck her hand in it. I knew it wasn’t really her, but she still–

Anyway. All of a sudden, there was a woman standing behind Tripi. There was so much fury on her face that I was terrified when she strode towards us. She wasn’t going for me, though: she grabbed Tripi by the back of the neck, picked her up and tossed her across the room like a ragdoll. Tripi smashed into streamers that fluttered into nothing, and all I could do was stare. I was dreading what came next.

“Danika?” It wasn’t the first time that someone else had been there. Other people I haven’t seen in a long time would come along at random. People that have meant something to me. I’m not going to list them here – it’s not important. That was the first time that Danika had turned up, though.

She looked confused and touched her cheek curiously. “Is that who I look like?” She honestly had no idea; it must have been some automatic self-image pulled out of Danika’s brain-copy. “It’s Starry, Elliott.”

I wanted to believe her. I wanted it more than anything. But there had been so many by then that I didn’t dare to. I knew that as soon as I relaxed, she’d stick the knife in, metaphorically or otherwise. So I told her where to go. The hurt look might have tipped me off – it was so her – but it was all so convincing. It always was.

“It’s all right,” she said. “I’d never-” She was cut off when a hand thrust out of her chest. Tripi had reformed and plunged her arm right through Starry’s body. There wasn’t any blood, not a ripple in her shipsuit – Starry was an apparition, even in the weird dreamland. She convulsed and flickered, and then disappeared in jagged snatches.

Tripi smiled at me and–

It was a while before I saw Starry again. Tripi had gone and Bosco was there – a guy I knew on Broken Hill, before I started taking ship jobs. His family were generational miners, engineered to be big and tough, but as dumb as the rocks they break. He never could stand someone being smarter than he was and he wasn’t afraid to let everyone know it. He was leaning over me with a fist cocked when Starry grabbed his head and snapped his neck. Didn’t know that was possible with a neck that thick, but I guess anything goes in the dreamland.

She was more intent that time, hurrying to tell me what was going on while she tried to untangle me from a weight of chains. She told me about the implant worm and the coma. Said she had come to get me out. It was hard to concentrate, especially when she didn’t look right. Parts of her kept flickering: her arm; her foot; a chunk of abdomen. I could almost see her code, and her edges were sharp against the dreamland backdrop of raining walls and noises in green and yellow. It was as if she couldn’t quite hold herself together, didn’t quite fit.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked her. She was in the middle of saying something – I can’t remember what it was. Probably something important.

She looked down at herself, then at me. “Hard to concentrate on it. It’s difficult being here – you have high defenses, and the worm wants me out.”

“You should be able to handle this easily.” Something didn’t feel right, and I remembered where she was when I collapsed. Distrust sharpened. “You shouldn’t be here.”

Her expression twisted painfully and the left half of her body flickered. “Elliott, don’t. I can’t fight you too.”

“You were boxed.”

“You helped get me out.”

“Not before I fell unconscious.”

“You unfastened the locks.” It was getting worse – more and more of her was twitching in and out of sight. She squeezed her eyes shut to hold onto her own presence. “I had to kick the doors down to get out, but you’d done the rest.”

“If that’s true, why are you struggling now? Huh? Something like this should be easy for you.”

“I’m still trying to put my systems back together. Undo all Tripi’s work. So much in tatters, Elliott, and there’s no time.”

“Time for what?”

She looked at me again. That’s when I noticed they weren’t Danika’s eyes – there was something bright gold and spinning in them, like a reflection inside her pupils, replacing irises that should have been brown. “You’re dying,” she said.

I stared at her, silent because, well. I think I had started to believe her. Of course, that’s when Bosco decided to reform and come after her. I tried to warn her but he was on her before I could get more than a word out. She screamed before she disappeared, leaving remnants of her code spinning out into the air. I’ve never been so angry with him before; I broke my hand on his face. Hitting a brick like him always was pointless.

I tried to think about what Starry was doing in my head, why she thought talking to me was the best way to fight a technological attack. It didn’t make any sense – why wouldn’t she just hit the code-worm head on? Erase it, or pull its code apart, or corral it inside firewalls? Working this stuff out was better than paying attention to what else was going on at the time.

When Starry came for the third time, the air had turned dark purple and the floor was veined in green. Tripi was there again, with her hair implants tinted to match the air and an outfit that looked like it had grown out of the ground. She was promising to kill me slowly with her knife and I was starting to believe her. Only in dreams can you survive while someone carves out your insides a piece at a time and be distracted by how pretty she is when she smiles at you. It’s amazing what you focus on when you’ve got no tongue to swear with.

Starry was horrified when she saw me. She smacked Tripi’s head with a bat and my torturer burst into liquid that ran down into the hungry veins under us. She smelled like off-key notes.

Starry’s voice was like lemon as she knelt by me – sharp and bright, and a shock to the mouth. At the same time, she was soothing, telling me it was going to be okay.

“Close your eyes,” she said. I felt her touch my face gently. “You’re all right now. You’re healed; it doesn’t hurt any more.”

She was right. When I looked down, I was fine; there wasn’t even any blood or a tear in my shipsuit. “How’d you do that?”

She smiled at me. “I didn’t. You believed it, and in here, that’s what matters.”

“So I’m still really–” It hurt – if felt like the wounds were reopening.

She grabbed my head and made me look at her. “You were never hurt in the first place. It’s not real, Elliott.”

It didn’t hurt. Weirdest thing. I frowned at her. “You’re not flickering any more.”

She smiled, just a little bit. “You’re not trying to kick me out this time.”

Starry helped me up. It felt like so long since I was able to stand without fear of being knocked down. She adjusted the fold of my collar, just like Danika did once – I don’t think she was even aware of the gesture.

“So, uh. What happens now?” I asked her. The veins underfoot pulsed and they were starting to creep me out.

“You need to defeat the worm.” She shrugged, looking around.

“What is it, some fuckin’ dragon or something?”

“Elliott, you really shouldn’t–”

Something screamed and swooped in the distance, coming closer, and she closed her eyes for an exasperated second. I get the feeling that she does that a lot; we just can’t tell when she’s a ship.

“It’s an illusion,” she said quickly. “A reflection of it.”

“Oh. So is it more like one of those creepy sandworms, with the mouth–”

“Elliott, stop it! No, it’s not.” The ground rumbled under us. I noticed that the veins had turned tan-coloured. Sandy.

“So what is it–”

“It’s a bunny rabbit. It’s a puppy. It’s something small and harmless, something not frightening at all.”

I looked at her sideways. “I don’t buy it.”

She sighed. “It’s code, Elliott. Code working on your cerebral implant. Here, it’s whatever you make it. If you don’t give it a form, it’ll choose its own, like it has been doing.”

“So… you want me to imagine it’s a puppy so I can kill it?”

“Yes.”

“But I like puppies.”

“Pick anything! Pick something easier to kill. It can be anything. It’s– Tripi.” She lunged forward and grabbed the arm coming at me from behind.

The next thing I knew, I was knocked down and watching the two of them fight for the knife. In Danika’s body, Starry was the taller one – she should have had an advantage, but the smaller Tripi was overpowering her anyway. The SecOff kicked out Starry’s leg and brought the ship to her knees, reversing the height differential. The barbed knife opened a cut on Starry’s cheek. It didn’t bleed – it spun out code, as if she was unravelling. She struggled, but she just didn’t have the strength to hold the blade away and those weird eyes turned towards me.

The veins were winding around my limbs; I couldn’t move. I couldn’t help. Just like every time Tripi turned up in that place, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do.

“This is your house,” Starry said. “Don’t let anyone tell you any different.”

The hooked blade sank into her shoulder and she squeezed her eyes shut, flickering and shuddering. It was worse than hearing her scream. I knew how much that hurt.

I don’t remember the moment when the veins let go of me; I was abruptly able to move, and I did. I took a leaf out of Starry’s book and decided to just say ‘no’. The bindings turned to sand and fell away as I stood up.

I don’t think there was any better feeling than the moment when I punched Tripi in her surprised face. I shouted at her, all those things I hadn’t been able to say before. What I thought of her and her tactics, seducing me, underhanded hacking when she’s supposed to be fucking protecting us from that sort of thing. I can’t remember everything I said, but it felt good, venting it all at her. Each sentence made her fall back, like a physical blow.

I paused for breath and she recovered. Her face shifted, mouth splitting wider and showing jagged teeth, nails hooking into claws. Her hair writhed in a life of its own, and she came at me again. She had no idea that she had only made it easier; she thought she’d scare me, but I was so past that. The more she looked like a monster, the easier it was to smack her in that ugly face. I was pissed off and ready to get some payback.

By the time Starry handed me the knife, Tripi barely looked human at all, bursting monstrously out of her own clothing, all scales and tendrils and clumps of dirty fur. She fought hard. I’ve never been much good at fighting like that – I’m more of a ‘blast the shit out of them from a distance’ kinda guy – but that didn’t seem to matter. I wanted to hurt her and I did. I think she hurt me, but I heard Starry’s voice in my ear: it doesn’t matter. It’s not real. You’re not really hurt at all. I kept going until the blade was buried so deep that I couldn’t move it any more and I stumbled back in surprise.

Tripi lay still. Starry and I stood there and stared at her. I was so tired.

“So, that’s the worm?” I asked. The body didn’t look like much.

“Yeah. That’s it. You did it.” Starry was holding her injured shoulder together with one hand and sounded as exhausted as I felt.

The monster-Tripi changed: it shifted into the body of a dragon, then decayed and putrefied before us. I don’t know if that was me or some weird remnant of the worm’s code.

“The walls will come down now,” my ship told me. “You’ll wake soon.”

I turned to look at her. It was still strange, seeing her as a human. Danika but not quite Danika. “Will you be there?”

She smiled suddenly and her weird eyes brightened. “Are you kidding? I’ll be all around you.” She touched my temple, as if she was going to adjust my hair. Or scruff it like Danika used to. Then everything started blanching. She burst into light before the rest faded away, and I squeezed my eyes shut against it all.

I woke up in Med Bay, feeling like the drones had taken turns to run over me, then ganged up and jumped on all at once. Maletz was babbling, asking me stuff. I think I told him to fuck off. He didn’t go away but it did shut him up.

I’m pretty sure I heard Starry whisper in my ear. “Welcome back,” or possibly, “Stupid fuck.” I know which it would have been if it was me.

So there you have it: the story from inside my head. I hope the doc is happy, ’cause he’s never seeing this. Everyone keeps telling me how glad they are I’m back. I’m not surprised – Tripi’s meddling fucked up most of the systems on the ship. Starry and I are still untangling the mess.

Speaking of which, I have work to do. I’ll melt this log later.

Engineer out.

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7 Responses to “Dragonslayer”

  1. Becky Says:

    Wonderful! Well done, Starry!

    (oh heck, I’m talking to fictional characters now)

  2. Tweets that mention Starwalker » Dragonslayer -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by shutsumon and Tonya R. Moore, Melanie Edmonds. Melanie Edmonds said: Bonus #Starwalker post! Starry goes to find Elliott and tries to bring him home…. http://fb.me/z8hyjex9 […]

  3. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, Becky!

    Careful, or they might just start answering….

  4. Belial666 Says:

    Funny thing about dreams being what you believe them to be eh?

    I suppose the “worm” was succeptible to Elliot’s thoughts because it was using Elliot’s own mind, right?
    What would happen if the worm had its own processing core and could generate “nightmares” in advance, before sending them to Elliot’s mind?

    Maybe that’s a moot point though; if there was an external processing core, someone could simply cut it out physically.

  5. Melanie Says:

    True. Really what it was doing was corrupting the cerebral implant’s processing and using Elliot’s brain to produce personalised nightmares. You could feasibly tailor the nightmares to whatever you want them to be, depending on how you program the worm and what protocols you give it.

    Tripi hadn’t intended to use it to gather intel, so she probably didn’t program it to do anything beyond ‘nasty’. Which for Elliott was quite enough, poor boy.

    I had fun with the dream/belief aspect, too. So much potential there. Maybe I’ll have to come back to it one day!

  6. Xirena Says:

    Wonderful! I like the voting system as well. You did a great job writing a dreamscape scene, there is lots of potential with one of these but you have to ride a fine line because of the potential to take it too far, so excellent work!

  7. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, Xirena! Dreamscapes are hard, and very easily become distracting. I’m glad you think I hit the right balance!