01 Jan

From the inside

Captain's log, 18:24, 5 October 2214 
Location: Standard orbit distance from the Cerces black hole horizon
Status: Orbiting
Log location: Captain’s Cabin

 

This is Captain Warwick reporting after direct contact was achieved between the crew of the Starwalker and the star-born entity known as Cerces.

The official wording might be technically correct, but in truth, it is misleading. We’ve been in contact with Cerces since we arrived here; we just didn’t know it. We have managed some two-way communication before, but it was spotty and unreliable at best, and damaging to my crew’s health. Our most reliable conduit is a two-and-a-half-year-old child, and our greatest success with conversing with this entity disabled everyone on board the ship, including the crew, captain, and all of our various guests.

The official wording might make it sound clean and easy, but the actual experience was far from that. It’s not an endeavour I have any intention of repeating, if it can be avoided.

I have spent most of the last twenty hours reviewing the logs of yesterday’s conversation with Cerces and trying to figure out how to report it. Trying to work out where we go next. I’m not really any closer to either of those answers, but I have realised…

 

Internal comms

ROSIE: (voice only) Hey, captain?

CAPTAIN: Yes?

ROSIE: You seen that brat anywhere?

CAPT: Sara? Not today, no. Have you lost her?

ROSIE: Not me, personally, no. But we, uh, can’t find her.

CAPT: The ship’s only so big, Brasco.

ROSIE: Yeah. You’d think it’d be fucking easy to find one stupid kid. If you see her, can you let us know?

STARRY: She’s somewhere in the ducts. I’ve got some dead sensors near mid-deck, recalibrating to try to pinpoint her location.

CAPT: (pinching the bridge of his nose) She’s in the ducts? Is Monaghan…

STARRY: Elliott’s looking at the dead sensors, yes. We’ll find her, captain, don’t worry.

CAPT: All right. Report in if there are problems.

 

A small child lost in the ship’s ducts. Only on this ship.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Yesterday’s communication with Cerces.

I remember very little of what happened during the time we were a part of the bridge. I have only vague recollections of a sense of caution and a deep desire to communicate, and I can’t distinguish whether they were my emotions or Cerces’s. There was an undercurrent of loneliness and hunger that I’m sure were from the black hole, and a foreboding kind of emptiness. More worryingly, there was a thread of desperation, as if he had been trying to get these messages through to us for some time but lacked the appropriate method until now. It felt barbed to me, as if that desperation was broader than I could sense and would not let itself go unfulfilled.

I can confirm what Chief Cameron and Navigator Cartier reported: there was no sign of hostility from Cerces. I got no sense that he bore us any ill will, nor intended us harm. He doesn’t consider us a threat, except that we might leave him alone here, which is a little surprising considering the Step we completed just a few weeks ago. Unlike his shining star brethren, he doesn’t seem to have been affected by it. Right now, I consider that something to be grateful for.

There was another emotion in the mix, but I find it difficult to place. I’m not sure if it was positive or negative, or if it was simply an effect of the mental bridge between us all. Dr Valdimir reported the same feeling – that there was something he couldn’t quite put his finger on – and suggests that it was something peculiar to our star-born friend, something for which there’s no equivalent in the human emotional spectrum. With no other way to classify it, that will have to do for now.

As for the details of the conversation, I have none except the logs that Starry recorded. The rest of crew report the same sensations: some emotions but no actual details of the communication. None of us remember speaking the words that Cerces put in our mouths. It’s unsettling, being so thoroughly disabled, especially as the captain. I’m supposed to be able to direct the action, guide us towards our desired outcome, and that’s impossible from the inside.

I don’t like to admit it but Starry’s assessment was correct: we rushed into this. As the captain, that was my fault. I didn’t stay objective enough. I should have slowed it all down, taken our time and found a way to direct who was and was not part of the bridge. We should have gone into it with a game-plan, not a vague intention.

As a result, everyone on board was disabled to become part of the bridge between us and the black hole, and it was left to our ship to provide our side of the discussion.

That said, Starry did an admirable job on her own, despite losing her temper at one point. I don’t blame her for that, though she could have handled it better. She’s well aware that shouting at Sara could have hurt us all if Cerces had reacted badly, and she’s very contrite about it. I can only hope that she got the point across clearly enough; surely Cerces understands now that he cannot ‘have’ one of our people.

Which leads me to the core of our discoveries about our friend in the black hole. He wants an avatar: a body in which to travel with us, so that we might help him find where his people went.

This whole subject is so troublesome that it’s hard to know where to start. He needs a living body to become a host, and a mind already attuned to him. Starry has calculated the likely candidates, even though she laid down a flat refusal. The only addition I would make to the list is the Acting Commander back on the station, but his life is not ours to give away, even if we wished to make that leap.

That leaves us… nowhere. We must find another option for an avatar, or find some other way to get Cerces to release us from this system.

Right now, it’s hard to know if we’re closer or further away from a solution after that conversation. Starry was vehement in her refusal to let him take one of our people but I am forced to wonder if a sacrifice will have to be made, for the rest of us to have a chance.

Not yet. There must be another solution. We’re not so desperate yet that I would consider granting Cerces’s request. And, considering that the doctor said we all showed signs of neural overloading, I won’t make any firm decisions until I can be sure that any temporary brain damage we incurred has been properly healed. Dr Valdimir predicts that we will be back at full cerebral health by tomorrow.

I have to wonder how much of Cerces’s request was influenced by Starry herself. It is difficult to know how much Sara truly understands, and impossible to know what meaning she might be passing through to her friend the whale. Was the avatar idea inspired by Starry’s one? Or perhaps it was his conversation with Kess, of which we know very few details. Did he get the idea from his fellow star?

I wish there was some easy way to contact her and ask. I think she would help us. But considering the overloading on the crew, and the damage it did to Lang Lang the last time she was involved, I’ll keep that as a background possibility, if we get desperate enough.

And I’m back to finding another option for Cerces’s problem. No matter how many times I look at it, I can think of no way out. And yet… and yet.

I want to help him. So do the others on this ship. There is something kindred in him, in the way he reaches out to us, and I must force myself to look at it objectively. It is human to crave contact and companionship, and he is not human. Is this compassion for him truly ours, or was it inspired by our contact with him? He took us over completely for an hour. Is this the spirits showing me my path, or is it an echo of his influence?

There is no clear answer to these questions, just like there’s no clear answer to Cerces’s problem. And yet, there is still the desire to help the creature inside the black hole.

The prospect of having him on board the ship might be an uncertain one, but it does bring with it a certain promise. Exploring new systems, searching for an alien race that predates humanity, establishing true contact with sentient beings. This ship was built to break the rules, to shatter the boundaries of science and forge new discoveries. This crew was assembled to explore. The Step program is over now, at our own hands, and maybe we’re exactly the right crew at the right place to make this work.

The doctor has been reserved in his reports about the mental health of the crew, considering that both him and I have been affected by the ghosts and mental touch of the black hole. But I think he would agree that a new purpose would do all of us good. And what more exciting purpose is there than being the first humans in our history to make direct contact with an alien species? Two, if we count Cerces?

I think the crew would sign up for an endeavour like that. I think they would get behind it, those who choose to stay.

But not if it means losing one of their own. I don’t think they’d support helping someone who stole one of their friends and colleagues. Even if we would consider that option, it is unfeasible.

Once again, I am back at the avatar problem. Dr Valdimir is a genius, if his file is to be believed; he must have an idea.

I am tired of standing in a corridor of closed doors.

…what was that?

 

CAPT: Starry, report.

STARRY: (voice only) Captain?

CAPT: My whole cabin just shook. Is there a problem with your inertial dampeners?

STARRY: Uh, yes and no. There was… a gravitational fluctuation.

CAPT: Caused by what?

STARRY: I don’t know yet. Still analysing…

CAPT: (grips the edge of his desk) Analyse faster!

STARRY: Two more fluctuations detected. Captain, you better get up to the Bridge. I’m going to have to disable the artificial gravity generators.

CAPT: (rising and fastening the front of his jacket) Put us on alert.

 

Shipwide

STARRY: Caution, everyone: artificial gravity is being disabled. Hold onto something. All crew to alert positions. Repeat: crew to alert positions.

 

(The door to the Captain’s Cabin shivers as it closes behind him.)

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8 Responses to “From the inside”

  1. Marcus Says:

    The black hole is throwing a tantrum maybe?

    A lovely chapter, I like the change of tone for the story.

  2. A Nonny Mouse Says:

    I don’t think it’s a tantrum, but perhaps he’s trying to stretch himself to eject a tiny (relatively) amount of mass to form his own avatar. That would produce a huge gravitational effect from a black hole.

  3. Melanie Says:

    Happy New Year, my friends! 🙂 Thanks for joining me for another adventure.

    Marcus – that’s all we need, a celestial body throwing all its toys out of the pram. 😉

    Thanks! So glad you like it. I’m definitely liking the tone a lot more now.

    A Nonny Mouse – hi and welcome! Also, interesting idea.

  4. Targetdrone Says:

    happy new year to you as well melanie! and yes, i have to agree as well, that rework made quite a diference … really enjoying the story again 😉

  5. Melanie Says:

    Thanks, Targetdrone! It feels good to be on a better track. 🙂

  6. thomas Says:

    Happy New Year and thanks Melanie. Great chapter. It helps to get his perspective, it might be interesting to read what the rest of the crew, and Starry’s visitors think too.

    Tantrum – maybe but Cerces is definitely up to something nefarious. Actually, I can see several good possibilities too but none of those would lead to anything interesting story wise.

    ;(

  7. Spencer Says:

    I like the new direction so far. Way to go Starry!

    I’m curious whether some of the revelations we had in the replaced chapters will show up in the future.

  8. Melanie Says:

    thomas – thanks! Glad you liked it. I’ll try to make it interesting, story-wise, I promise. 😀

    Spencer – good question! At the moment, it’s hard to say… some will come through, some might not. It is enough of a change of direction that they won’t all make it in, but they won’t be forgotten. Spoilers!