Ship’s log, 13:10, 8 October 2214 Location: In the system of the Cerces black hole Status: Sublight transit
(The captain is pacing back and forth while everyone assembles. Most of the crew is present and seated at their usual Bridge stations: Lang Lang, Chief Cameron, and Rosie. Dr Valdimir is sitting at a spare station, tapping his fingertips on the arm restlessly. Lang Lang is the only one with an active console; the rest are deactivated.
The Celestial Strider’s captain, Warsi, is escorted in by the Lieutenant and shown to a seat in the semi-circle of Bridge stations as well. The Lieutenant assumes a standing post behind Warsi’s left shoulder and shakes his head when invited to sit as well, preferring to keep an eye on his charge more directly.
At the front of the Bridge, Sara is sitting on the sill of one of the curving forward view portals, her feet dangling above the floor. The black whale-kitten is next to her, staring out of the portal and occasionally distracted by the twitch of his own tail-tip.
The ship’s avatar resolves at one end of the semi-circle of Bridge stations. The image shivers and is more translucent than usual. It manages to hold steady after a second.)
CAPTAIN: (to the Lieutenant) Who’s watching Dineen?
HALF-FACE: She’s in her quarters.
STARRY: I have Big Ass stationed outside the door.
CAPT: (nods and glances around) Where’s Monaghan?
STARRY: Busy with repairs. He sends his apologies.
CAPT: (frowns) Anything new we should know about?
STARRY: No. His concerns are the same as when he spoke to you last.
It’s not the entire truth but it’s enough for now. I haven’t actually asked Elliott directly about his concerns with the repairs, but nothing has changed, so I think it’s a safe assumption to make. It’s easier for everyone if I keep it simple and don’t mention the details.
Like how Elliott’s repairs involve hugs. And, if I’m lucky, more kisses. No, I won’t mention that.
I’ll just pay attention and try not to let my avatar blush.
CAPT: Very well, let’s get started. We’re here to discuss our next destination. (He hesitates.)
CERCES-KITTEN: (turns clumsily on the sill to look at the captain and assembled humans.)
SARA: (tilts her head and cheerfully pets the kitten on the head, stroking his fur sideways.)
CAPT: We’re aware of your request, Cerces.
STARRY: Uh, translation for the cheap seats?
SARA: (cheerfully, to the ship) Mini-whales!
CAPT: Cerces would like us to find his people. However, we have other needs to fulfil before we can set out on a journey like that. Returning the Strider’s people to colonised space, for one. (He nods towards the Strider’s captain.) And repairs for another.
STARRY: Yeah, I’m not going to get far on one power core.
CAPT: (glancing at the whale-kitten) I don’t think that’s a good idea. (To Starry,) Cerces offered to power you.
STARRY: (blinks) Uh. Yeah, I think I’d prefer to keep that for an emergency situation, if it’s all the same to you.
CERCES-KITTEN: (drops his rear end abruptly and shuffles his front paws back until he’s in a catlike sitting position.)
Being powered by the avatar of a black hole? Does the kitten plug in?
I don’t know how that would work, or even if it could. I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to find out. I’m determined that I won’t be dependent on that creature to run. To be.
Maybe I’m still a little sore from all the damage he caused me, but I don’t think I’m alone in that. Besides, what if Cerces finds his people and decides to stay with them? No, better that I’m self-sufficient. I have to be able to support whatever people are on board me.
The captain is with me on that. I know I can rely on him.
DR SOCKS: (glancing around) So, we need to dump our unwilling cargo and pick up new parts. Considering we’re probably not Is-Tech’s favourite people right now, what are our options?
CAPT: (looks to the Chief.)
CAMERON: (nods) The Engineering reports state that we need dry dock facilities to perform full repairs. That narrows the list of candidates; waypoint stations are out. We need a full colony, preferably away from Is-Tech’s reach. So one with few ties to the company. We also need to stay away from the areas where the Judiciary might detect us. Lang Lang, if you would?
LANG LANG: (nods and moves her hands over her console.)
CAPT: (moves out of the middle of the room and drops into his usual chair.)
(The centre of the room shimmers as the holographic projectors struggle to come online.)
STARRY: Hold on, re-routing data.
(The hologram flickers, then resolves into a diagram of the colonial network: bright nodes representing colonies, stations, and waypoints connected by glowing lines of FTL corridors. It’s a familiar image to those in the room.
The navigator’s hands move again and sections of the diagram start to go dark, starting with the centre and then all of the smaller nodes.)
LANG LANG: Earth is not an option, for obvious reasons. Neither is Feras or the JOP. I’m taking out the places too small to have what we need. (She glances at Chief Cameron.)
CAMERON: Dyne is tied to Is-Tech. They’re seldom on good terms, which means they watch each other too closely for our comfort. Panispila Mundi has regular supply runs to and from Feras – too much traffic to be safe.
(Lang Lang’s hands move on her console and two more nodes go out.)
CAMERON: Genetica is a possibility – they’d definitely have the facilities we need – but their anti-cybernetic stance can be volatile. We’d have to check the current status of the sentiment before going there, and we’d have to hide Starry’s true nature.
(The Genetica node pulses yellow.)
CAMERON: Broken Hill has regular traffic with Is-Tech because of the raw materials it produces, but it’s mostly outgoing and they don’t watch each other too closely. It’s also a possibility.
(Another node flashes yellow.)
I don’t think Elliott would like that option. He’s not fond of his birth colony, and from her expression, neither is Rosie. I wonder what it is about that place that makes them so reluctant to go back.
I won’t mention it to Elliott right now. He’s smiling. I’ll only worry him with it if it looks like we might actually go there.
CAPT: And if we take out the routes that take us through or near the places we need to avoid?
(FTL lines start to go dark, rippling out from the disabled nodes.)
CAPT: (sighs and rakes his long hair back from his face.)
CAMERON: Most of the FTL network will put us in contact with parties we’d prefer to avoid. I think we’re going to have to take our chances, to at least some degree.
CAPT: (nods) Our options are still very limited.
LANG LANG: There is one that’s not on the network. Well, not on the official one.
CAPT: Like the system we’re in right now?
LANG LANG: Yes. Sort of. The research station wasn’t big enough to make it onto the map. This other one is missing for… other reasons.
CAPT: What is it?
LANG LANG: It’s— we’ve already been there. (Her hands move over her console and a new node blinks into being on the diagram. The FTL corridors accessing it flash on and off.) The Apus system.
CAMERON: (frowning) Hunt and the pirates?
LANG LANG: They must service their own ships somewhere, so they’ll have the facilities we need. And they’re off the grid.
CAPT: The last time we met them, we were shot at, captured, and had to fight our way free of them. (He catches himself rubbing at his right wrist, as if the arm he had to replace itches. He frowns and places his hands on the arms of his chair instead.)
LANG LANG: (glancing around the room) I, I don’t know if it’s a good option. But it’s one.
HALF-FACE: (hands tightening on the rifle slung over his shoulder) You’re asking what kind of reception you’d get? Hard to say. Hunt’s contract on you is done: Kess got to talk to you. He won’t still be chasing you for that. Also, he knows enough about Starry to make her not… a viable target for capture and commandeering.
STARRY: (lifts her chin.)
CAPT: How annoyed is he likely to be about our last encounter?
HALF-FACE: (shrugs) You lost people. He lost people. It mostly depends on whether or not he got paid.
CAPT: And we have no way to know that.
HALF-FACE: He’s not the only one we have to worry about, though.
CAMERON: How many pirate commanders are there in the collective?
HALF-FACE: Hard to say. A dozen, maybe more.
ROSIE: A dozen ships?
HALF-FACE: A dozen commanders. Some have more than one ship, like Hunt.
CAPT: That’s… a lot more than we were led to believe.
CAMERON: (drily) The Judiciary don’t like to advertise how bad the problem is, in case it reflects on them.
CAPT: (frowning) That means they’re more established than we knew. That could be good for us. Laurence?
HALF-FACE: Are you asking if they’d kill us on sight? Not if they can make a profit from us. Go with something to trade, tell them we’re pirates, they’ll make a deal.
CAMERON: As long as Hunt’s contract is done and they don’t think we’re Judiciary spies?
CAPT: (glances around) Tell them we’re pirates.
ROSIE: (rolls her eyes) We’re already outlaws. Wanted by the Judiciary, probably for a few things by now. Isn’t that the same thing?
(There’s a brief, uncomfortable silence.)
STARRY: (folding her arms over her chest) Besides, they have something that belongs to us that I’d like to get back.
ROSIE: (looks confused.)
CAPT: (tilts a look at the ship’s avatar) Tyler Pashtohov.
CAPT: (smiles at her.)
I’m a ship. I don’t forget, especially not the people I’ve lost along the way.
I’ve lost so many, but maybe, just maybe, this is one I can get back. Brave Tyler, who was taken by the pirates before we managed to break free of them. We left him behind once. I won’t do it again.
WARSI: (clears his throat) Captain Warwick, you brought me here to represent the interests of my crew. If what you’re discussing is to drop us off with pirates…
CAPT: (holds up a hand, shaking his head.)
ROSIE: (grinning) Oh, I dunno. (To the Lieutenant,) Didn’t you say we need to take something to trade?
LANG LANG: (mouth falls open.)
WARSI: Hey, now—
STARRY: We are not selling slaves!
CAPT: That’s enough! (He waits for the room to settle down.) No-one is suggesting we sell anyone. (He looks pointedly at Rosie.) Not seriously, anyway.
ROSIE: (shrugs and leans back in her chair, looking amused.)
STARRY: (looking at the Lieutenant) We won’t be leaving anyone behind who doesn’t want to go.
HALF-FACE: (blinks at the avatar, then nods. The line of his shoulders eases.)
DR SOCKS: (watches the exchange between ship and SecOff, then examines his lap, frowning.)
So the mostly-metal Lieutenant is worried about meeting his old pirate crewmates again. Interesting. I thought he was put on board me because Captain Hunt trusted him, but maybe there was another reason. Maybe it was a test, or intended to get him into trouble.
It’s hard to remember him as a pirate now. He’s a good man, someone I trust. He’s one of mine now. I’m not sure which one of us that says the most about.
At least the captain didn’t argue with me. I mean it: I’m not leaving anyone behind unless they want to be there. Even if I have to go up against Hunt’s warships again.
CAPT: Captain Warsi, your people can leave the ship whenever they choose. We can’t make repairs at a waystation, but we can swing past one if we need to.
WARSI: (nods and leans back in his chair, appeased) Thank you, Captain Warwick.
CAPT: Are there any other colonial options?
LANG LANG: (manipulates the hologram to bring the FTL corridors back online and highlighting another couple of colonies) We haven’t discussed these ones.
CAMERON: Both viable options, same as Genetica and Broken Hill.
(They begin to flash yellow.)
CAMERON: There’s another factor to consider: the evacuation of Earth. We haven’t been around to see what that means. The last we heard, it was a full evacuation, which means a lot of refugees are pouring into the colonies right now.
CAPT: That could be good for us, couldn’t it?
CAMERON: (inclines her head to the side) Possibly. There will be more of a crowd to hide in; confusion benefits us. If the Judiciary has mobilised to help, though, it could make it harder to avoid detection.
STARRY: You think they’ll be looking for my new ident?
CAMERON: I’m not sure we want to find out. And you’re a little distinctive, Starry.
CAPT: What’s your recommendation, Chief?
CAMERON: Dip our toe in colonial waters, see how hot they are. The pirate collective is a good backup plan, if we need it.
CAPT: (nods) Any objections?
(Silence falls as the captain looks around the room. The black kitten studies the pads on his paw intently.)
CAPT: All right. We still have a few days of repairs to complete; I’d like to have a plan by the time we leave the system. Lang Lang, please plot us a course to an outer waypoint, see if we can find somewhere to test those waters. Chief, I’d like a detailed breakdown of the colonies we should target. If anyone has any contacts that could help us, now is the time to speak up.
(The responses around the room are mostly avoidance. Rosie scowls at the floor between her boots. The doctor looks off at the wall, his lips pressed together. The Lieutenant’s head bows tightly. Lang Lang simply looks sad.)
CAPT: (suppressing a sigh and rising to his feet) Thank you, everyone. Dismissed.
So that’s it. If we can’t sneak through inhabited space, we’ll seek the outlaws and try not to get killed. Then we’ll go hunt some aliens. Just as soon as I can survive the FTL jumps to get there.
Just a regular day in the life of the Starwalker.