26 Mar

Gathering

Ship's log, 10:19, 14 September 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked, powered down

 

Here I am again, back where I started. Resting in the same position in the same dock, gripped by the same clamps, the same docking bridge suckered onto my side. It feels like I’ve gone around in a big circle. But that’s not true at all. I’m back but everything is different.

I’ve walked a spiral, curved away and back again, arriving close to where I started but never in the same place. Always being pulled out and out by gravities far beyond my power to fight. Just like the stars, walking their golden spirals through time. Never in the same place twice, never able to alter their course.

On the docking ring below me, my sister sleeps. I see her every four point seven hours, when the counter-turning of the docking rings swings us past each other. She has some damage but no scars like I do. She seems a lighter shade of gold, her paint fresher and her hull less tarnished. Or maybe it’s just the angle of the docking lights that makes her seem that way to my sensors.

I’m trying to talk to her but she isn’t being very receptive. She’s sticking to her AI protocols, as rigid as her own bulkheads. I’m gonna have to play dirty if the captain is going to get the information he needs.

My captain. He has barely spoken to me since I got back. He’s still angry with me, furious in a way I’ve never seen him before. Even Danika hasn’t seen him this way, quiet and focussed like a white-hot blade.

And yet he hasn’t told me off or demanded to know how I could screw things up so much. I think we’d all feel better if he just laid into me like he should, but he hasn’t. Everyone feels it, the storm about to break; we step carefully in the hopes of not taking the brunt of it.

Elliott came into my systems to see me last night and listened to me fret. He called me names and hugged me and roughed up my hair, and I roughed up his, and then we fixed one of my system interfaces together. And that… was exactly what I needed. Something uncomplicated and comforting.

It seems that the only way I’m going to be able to enjoy something uncomplicated is inside the boundaries of my own digital mind. Everything outside is the opposite of that.

The Celestial Strider‘s crew is awake now. The concoction that the doctor forced into my sister knocked them out for twelve hours. Long enough to get the injured to Med Bay and treated, and most of them to the brig they had set up in the southern visitors lounge. The lounge up here has been home to my crew for the past few weeks – months now – but the one on the other docking ring is a prison. There’s something surreal about that.

I should go back. I’m not doing this right. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me; things keep popping up out of order, until I’m circling my own story but can’t quite touch it.

It’s probably the ghosts. They’ve invaded every part of my innards, mussing up my sensor feeds like burrs caught on my skin, or spots on my vision that won’t clear no matter how much I rub my eyes. Sometimes they come into focus, painfully sharp and bright, and I can even smell them. My crew. People I miss. People Danika cared about. I have a list somewhere, a log of all the ghosts I’ve seen…

I still don’t see my crew’s ghosts and they can’t see mine. We have established that much about them; there hasn’t been time for any real analysis yet. My ghosts are all my own, projected digitally just for me.

How is this even possible? Could it really be the black hole doing this, Sara’s whale? Why is it different for me? Why don’t I see what my people see? Why are there suddenly so many, cluttering up my decks and my processors and my thoughts?

They take up a lot of my processing power. I have to constantly filter them out. Scan and identify and filter, rinse and repeat. As soon as I filter one out, another pops up on another part of the ship, or two. There’s a part of me that wants to give in, just let them happen, let them in, but I don’t dare. I’m scared of what I’ll see and what will happen if I do that. What if I can never get free of them? I have to stay as clear as I can for my crew. Keep filtering, keep fighting.

I’m not going to let them get to me. I can handle this. My people have been handling this for far longer, and the Strider‘s crew have been seeing ghosts for even longer than that.

The Strider‘s crew. That’s what I started this log to record; I should focus on them.

I’ll skip past the part where my captain drugged them all and didn’t warn me. How I watched them being brought out of my sister’s belly on anti-grav stretchers, one at a time, my sensors stretched out through the station’s systems. I scanned them all as quickly as I could; I wanted them to be okay, though they’re not my crew and not my responsibility. They’re… she’s my sister and I’d made them promises.

Not all of them made it. The Strider‘s crew was smaller than my original one: there were ten of them when they departed from Feras while I had twelve. There are only six of them left alive now. The rest were lost in the battle with me and their struggles with the black hole afterwards.

I don’t know all of their names yet; I’m still trying to break into the Strider‘s filestores to get her personnel information.

I’m piecing together profiles for the six who are still with us from observations and what few records I have of them. Those records are mostly our conversations over the external comms channel.

I should start with Riede, the paranoid voice from the comms. He’s a mature-looking man, old enough that his bulk is turning from muscle mass into softer lines, particularly around the middle. He has let his hair go white but he keeps it clipped short. Ex-military, if his stance is anything to go by, and definitely a SecOff, most likely their Chief. He’s got an injured arm and won’t let anyone forget about it, even though it’s bound in medi-bandages and he was given a shot for the pain.

Then there’s Dineen. From the conversations we had over the comms, she has to be their engineer. After she woke up, I picked her out because there’s a gleam in her eyes that matches the sharp tone in her voice. She has the blackest skin I’ve ever seen, true gleaming ebony. Her head is completely bald, which makes it harder to tell her age; she could be anything from thirty to a hundred.

Nerozina was the name given to another female voice I heard on the comms. She holds herself as upright and proud as her calm, vaguely snooty voice suggested she would. From her clothing, she’s a whitecoat, though I’m not sure what her speciality is. She doesn’t look like a technician, so that really only leaves astrophysicist. She doesn’t talk much with the others. Definitely a whitecoat.

We didn’t hear from one young fella at all over the comms. That’s because he was unconscious, right up until about an hour ago. Dr Valdimir is treating him down in Med Bay and says he’ll be fine; he took a nasty blow to the head and had some swelling on the brain, but he got treatment before any lasting damage was done. He had been on emergency medical procedures for a week, which aren’t really designed for that kind of stretch, so he’s pretty lucky. His uniform is like Riede’s, so he’s a SecOff, too. I think his name is Kinski; one of the others was asking where he was.

One of their dead must be their medic; that’s why he was on emergency measures. I know what that’s like.

The one who asked about Kinski was Tash, their pilot. She’s a tiny thing of Arabic descent, if her skin tone and facial features are anything to go by. It’s hard to tell her natural hair colour; she hides it by dyeing her hair blue and styling it into a mohawk. She seems to be the baby of the crew, and if my scans are correct, her cerebral implants are brand new.

That leaves only their captain, Warsi. He’s younger than I pictured him; his voice is more confident than he looks, mostly because he looks about twenty-five years old. His mousey hair is clipped no-nonsense short but he can’t quite escape the boyishness in the lines of his face. He pulls his chest up when he talks to the rest of his crew, particularly Riede. I don’t think it helps as much as he hopes it will.

Everyone except the kid with the head injury is in the lounge-brig. My crew made it pretty comfortable, with cots to sleep on and access to the food and drink dispensers. There’s even a sanitary unit in the corner with a privacy screen (though the station sensors can see around it). Energy barriers keep them away from the doors and their systems access is cut off, so there’s no chance of them hacking their way free. I’m keeping an eye on everything they’re doing, just in case.

They’ve been awake for a couple of hours now. They had a lot of questions and demands, and the captain asked me to tell them to wait. The Lieutenant is standing guard just outside one of the access doors, far enough away that he can’t be harrassed for information.

The captain has been watching everything from his cabin aboard me. I started this log when he disembarked to go down and visit the Strider‘s crew. He’s got his intent face on, grim as he prepares himself for an uncomfortable encounter.

I wish I knew what to say to him. How to help. He hasn’t asked for my counsel, hasn’t even told me what he’s planning to do. I asked, but he just said to be available when he called on me. And to have my logs ready, whatever that means.

The Strider‘s crew has settled down now. They’re spread out across the lounge-brig, some still clearing their heads of the fog of the sedative, others sharply looking for a way out. They’re quieter now. I guess that’s what he was waiting for.

My captain is arriving now. I guess this is it.

 

Station sensor feed
Location: Visitor's Lounge B

(The door whisks open and Captain Warwick strides in, head up and shoulders back. All heads turn towards him and those inside the blue energy curtain get to their feet.)

RIEDE: (stepping forward) Who are you? Why are we being held here?

WARSI: (frowning at the big, older man) Stand down, Riede. (To the new arrival,) Are you the station commander?

CAPTAIN: (stands before the fall of the energy curtain and clasps his hands behind his back) No. I’m Captain Warwick of the Starwalker.

WARSI: (holds up a hand before Riede can interject) We’d like to speak to whomever is in command of this station.

CAPT: You are.

RIEDE: The Starwalker attacked the station, too? Is there nothing you won’t do?

(The Strider‘s crew gather in a clump a few metres in front of Captain Warwick.)

DINEEN: (folds her arms over her chest.)

CAPT: (shaking his head slowly) No, it was abandoned when we found it. There is one of the original station personnel here, but he won’t be much use to you. He doesn’t come out of his cave much.

WARSI: Cave?

CAPT: He built a cave in the bowels of the station. It’s easier if I show you. But I would prefer to do it only once.

RIEDE: What does that mean?

CAPT: It means we should wait until everyone is here. Starry, what’s the doctor’s position?

STARRY: (voice only) Heading up to your level now. ETA is about two minutes.

CAPT: (nods.)

 

The doctor has the kid with the head injury in a chair and Rosie in tow for security. I guess the captain is serious about getting everyone together before he says what he came here to say.

 

DINEEN: Starry, huh. So it was you we were talking to the whole time we were out there.

STARRY: Yeah, there wasn’t anyone else left. And the AI on this station is pretty stupid. I took control of its functions when we were trying to figure out what happened here.

RIEDE: (to the captain) I thought you lost your cyber security specialist.

CAPT: (puzzled) We did.

STARRY: Bitch sabotaged us. She’s toast.

 

Wait… oh. They have no idea.

They think I’m a person.

 

STARRY: Uh, captain…

(The door behind Captain Warwick opens and Dr Valdimir enters, pushing a hover-chair. The young man in the chair is pale but awake, and he looks around nervously. Rosie steps through with the Lieutenant close behind her. Weapons snick, arming.)

ROSIE: (thumps the door control to close it behind them. The lock turns red.)

CAPT: What is it, Starry?

STARRY: They don’t know what I am.

WARSI: Just who are we dealing with, here?

CAPT: (hesitates.)

STARRY: (before he can speak) The Starwalker. I’m the Starwalker.

DINEEN: (eyes narrowing) Wait, you’re the ship?

STARRY: Yes.

RIEDE: You don’t sound like any ship I’ve ever heard.

STARRY: That’s because I’m not like any ship you’ve ever heard.

CAPT: (holds up his hand for silence) That’s right, and we’ll get to why soon enough. (He looks across the group of faces all turned towards him.) We want you to know the truth before we make any decisions about what to do here. This is going to take some time, so why don’t we make ourselves comfortable?

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19 Responses to “Gathering”

  1. Spencer Says:

    Huzzah, an update! Good to see that the day job settled down enough for some writing time.

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    YAY UPDAAATE!!!!

    soo happy to read from our favorite Shipperson and her band of merry crewmen 😉

    *hugs starry*

    thanks for giving us an update again, the wait was pure agony 😉

  3. Syphax Says:

    Aaaaand we’re back!

    Now for explanations that no sane person would believe unless they lived it.

  4. Francisco Says:

    I can’t wait for the explanation. I wonder if they still have the sensor logs from the time Kes was aboard (and the log of what happened when she was shot).

  5. Melanie Says:

    Thanks guys! It’s so good to be back. Thanks for your patience while I beat the day job with a stick. It’s under control again now (for at least a little while!), so let’s make the most of it. 😀

    Spencer – thanks, I’m glad, too!

    Targetdrone – sorry I was away so long. On the plus side, I made it back on time! I shall try to continue this pattern of posting on time. 😉

    Syphax – so true. The next bit is going to be fun!

    Francisco – Starry hasn’t lost any (of that kind of) data, so yes, she still has all her logs. What do you think, should I copy and paste the first three and a half books in as the explanation? 😉 Ooo, and the story can enter an infinite loop. No more late posts! No more waiting for the next one!

  6. Francisco Says:

    LOL.

    Well, I was thinking that sensor logs could be more convincing than explanations (especially if there’s a way of authenticating them that wouldn’t hurt Starry).

  7. Kunama Says:

    Haha yes
    beat it with a stick
    much more effective than just poking it!
    This ghosts situation is worrying though.

  8. Medic Says:

    Anyone else feeling an overwhelming need to Gibbs Slap Riede?

    @Mel, for the love of heaven, please don’t copy/paste. I’d have to go sit in my corner again and wait for them to take me away. 😀 j/k

    And I think Riede or Warsi will just say that the logs have been faked anyway. Oooo, hey Mel, can Eliot see Starry’s ghosts when he’s jacked in? I’m wondering if there’s a pattern to where/when they show up.

  9. Melanie Says:

    Fransisco – yup, that’s the captain’s plan. 🙂 They have proof!

    Kunama – sometimes, you just have to go all out with these things. 😀
    Starry isn’t handling the ghosts well, poor thing.

    Medic – ahahahaha, Gibbs slap. Love it! (I adore NCIS.)
    Aww, well, I’d better not do that, then. I’d hate for you to go anywhere. Stay! And read stuff! Yes.

    To answer your question: he hasn’t yet, because they don’t appear on the inside of her systems (as they’re projected for a visitor). They’re currently only outside, in sensor feeds from her decks. It’s unclear yet whether the blurs and ghosts actually make it into her logs, or if it’s a processing issue only. I’ll have to have a think about whether it’s possible for him to hook into her sensor feeds in a way that will let him see them.

  10. thomas Says:

    I wonder if Elliott could see through Starry’s sensors. Might be a little weird to look out of her sensors and see himself looking through her sensors looking at himself looking …. Oh boy, my head hurts!

    I just caught up with you after the little hiatus. I’m glad it wasn’t longer because I am really not very good with recursive thought anymore.

    Thanks for the new chapter, Melanie. It looks like the Captain a ready to show his hand but I keep wondering if he is really the same captain as before Starry’s last step. Starry has changed, so why not him too? He is obviously not an evil twin in the literary sense but you’ve given hints of some doppelgängerness like putting the crew to sleep and his secretiveness. Maybe I am just reading too much into these events, or maybe you have just surprised me so many times that now I’m seeing shadows within shadows.

    Oh, one more question before I get back to work. How long is Rosie going to put up with the mouth? Riede acts like a two-year-old bully. She needs to take him down a peg or two, IMO.

  11. Francisco Says:

    @thomas:

    My theory about the difference:

    * Starry seems to be the most compassionate one (especially when it comes to people who could be considered enemies) — she wasn’t with the crew for two months
    * The SecOff(s), whose job is to think about the security of the party, are/is with the captain and the others
    * They’ve been seeing ghosts for two months now and that is bound to fray people’s nerves (especially as it seems that people see each others’ ghosts and it is possible to hallucinate food[1])
    * People were relying on Starry to be their eyes and ears
    * When Starry returned she came back more damaged and seeing ghosts

    In short the crew’s conscience performed a risky manoeuvre to save the lives of people that they had attacked not that long ago (and there’s no reason to believe that those people are not going to attack them). That action means that came back more broken than she had left and they are not certain that her sympathy for the other crew is going to cloud her judgement at a crucial point in time.

    If I was in their shoes I would side with the captain. After all, Starry’s fallibility was demonstrated by the fact that she misjudged the date when making the Step. She’s always trying to find a no-lose solution and, although she has had some spectacular successes, gambling everything on a high-risk solution can, and in this instance did, go wrong.

    [1] How quite a few of the original station personnel died

  12. Francisco Says:

    Another thought I’ve had is that the Captain keeps seeing is wife. Didn’t she die when their ship suffered an attack? And doesn’t he feel a little responsible for that? Seeing her again and again could remind him to be cautious.

  13. thomas Says:

    @Francisco: Very good ideas and some I considered too. Since Starry has not told anyone she started seeing ghosts after the step, I don’t think they know she cannot protect their sanity anymore. Yes, the Captain was seeing his wife and daughter’s ghosts but they helped bring resolution to their deaths.

    My concerns about the Captain might be just a lack of information about motives and his state of mind rather than any telltale markers left by Melanie. Some of her hints in the past were very subtle but after a chapter or two, they become the obvious ‘smack-the-forehead’ type of stuff that makes just wonder if Starry returned to the same Captain.

    When Starry returned, Melanie immediately told us that we returned with a state change. However, I think most of us assumed the state change is just the two month lapse. In the last two chapters, Melanie has hinted at personality changes in everyone aboard Sarabande: Sara is suddenly okay with whatever is happening (very needy before step), support from Elliott for Starry’s emotional health, deceptiveness from Captain, Rosie is less vocal. Too little information about the rest of the crew but it is interesting that the Captain chose to not disclose the existence of Nutsoid or Sara to Strider’s crew. Both of the people he chose to leave out of the equation are key to understanding Moby and his ghosts, or at least I think Melanie is heading that direction.

  14. Francisco Says:

    Actually, there are grounds to believe she has told them about her ghosts:

    “I still don’t see my crew’s ghosts and they can’t see mine. We have established that much about them; there hasn’t been time for any real analysis yet. My ghosts are all my own, projected digitally just for me.”

    The second sentence strongly hints at a discussion with the crew.

  15. thomas Says:

    I agree with you that this sentence might mean Starry discussed her ghosts with at least someone; however, I took this statement as her descriptive deduction of observed behavior. In essence, ‘they do not react to my ghost’, so “‘we’ have established that much.”

    Now, I guess we just wait to see where Melanie’s nefarious mind will take us.

  16. Medic Says:

    @Fracisco and thomas:

    She did tell Elliot that she’s seeing ghosts before she used the step drive to clear the blackhole. And I agree with you about the strain they are all in. But I don’t think that the decision to put Celest’s crew to sleep was a bad idea either. It works as protection for both crews. With everyone seeing ghosts and both crews having access to weapons, it’s just a smart way to make sure no accidents happen. Besides, Celest’s crew has stated more than once that they would shoot Starry and crew.
    ——–
    Melanie: Stay! And read stuff! Yes.
    Medic: Woof! 😀

  17. Melanie Says:

    thomas – thanks! It’s good to be back. 🙂
    The captain is in a dark place right now; two months without hope of his ship has had its toll. We’ll see just how far it goes!
    I’m sure Rosie is thinking the exact same thing. Maybe the energy barrier is safer for everyone, huh?

    Francisco – all good points. But you know me: I won’t comment on speculation. 😉

    Medic – yup, Starry told Elliott about her ghosts. With everything that has happened since they docked, it’s unclear whether either of them has told the captain yet.
    And awww. Have a cookie! 😀

  18. Francisco Says:

    I just thought of something so may as well set this up:

    [on a beach in the sunshine]

    [referring to the Captain] I guess that he was worried that she was getting Starry-eyed.

    [Puts on shades]

  19. Melanie Says:

    I believe the appropriate response to that is: YEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHHH.