04 Jul

Holding back the tide

Ship's log, 15:27, 28 March 2214
Location: Spaceport, Seville, Spain, Earth
Status: Docked and powered down

 

Most of my people are outside, surrounded by an angry mob, and stupid docking clamps have me pinned in place. Can’t do anything except watch, as it all goes wrong.

 

External sensors

(Halfway across the landing platform, the mob has gathered around the Starwalker‘s disembarked passengers. Amid the shouting, a hand grabs at Sasha. Warren comes to her defense, tearing her free, but the seal on the situation has broken. Angry words give way to physicality and the thin veil on the mob’s mood is ripped apart.)

KESS: (light kindling around her edges as she tries to keep her people behind her) Stop this!

(Chief Cameron is running towards them with Swann on her heels. She lifts her weapon to fire a warning shot over the mob’s heads, but she’s beaten to it. A gunshot cracks and someone screams.

Kess moves to the side, and then she falls. Warren has blood on his face. Sasha gapes, and then she’s shouting at everyone, back, get back.

More gunshots, this time from the SecOffs coming up to flank Kess’s people. Two armed bodies crumple. The mob shatters as people shy away from the gunfire, but they don’t go far, pushed forward by the weight of bodies coming up behind. There’s nowhere for them to go; the crowd surges uncertainly.)

 

External communications line

STARRY: Port Authority! We have shots fired down here! People down, people down.

SEVILLE PORT AUTHORITY: Security is on its way, Starwalker.

STARRY: Still four minutes away and people are dying. Get these clamps off me so I can help!

PORT AUTH: Negative, Starwalker. We don’t need a ship making things worse.

STARRY: Worse?! How is that possible? We need backup.

PORT AUTH: And you’ll have it in three and a half minutes.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

CAPTAIN: (standing at the foot of the ramp leading out of the cargo bay. The two heavy drones, Big Ass and Wide Load, trundle past him and spread out.) Starry, better tell them that our people are out there. Don’t want them shooting friendly targets.

STARRY: (at the top of the ramp, her arms folded angrily over her chest) Telling them now, sir.

(Dr Cirilli and Ebling stand on either side of her, holding weapons uncomfortably.)

 

External communications line

STARRY: (icily) Be advised, Port Authority, that my crew is out on the platform. Your security better pick their targets really fucking carefully. And you’re paying for any damage I sustain here.

PORT AUTH: (sighing) Acknowledged, Starwalker.

 

This is such a mess. Screaming and crying is muddling up the shouting of the mob. A halo of empty space has appeared around the fallen bodies and Cameron and Swann are trying to get them to back off even further. The mob is unwilling, though, and I can see at least a couple eyeing the weapons of the fallen.

Need to help.

Stragglers have shied away from the main clump of the mob and are going around the edges. Rosie just smashed the butt of her gun into the face of a young woman trying to sneak around my nose. Elliott is only a few steps away from them, obliviously working on the docking clamps, and she had a knife. A knife. She’s crawling away now, choking on blood.

Elliott has one of the docking clamps down already. It’s not enough; I need both off me to be free. Stupid safety protocols! Who are they safe for when it really matters?

Attempting to override internal docking locks. Never mind propulsion; I need weapons. Just need to get the defense lasers online. No time for finesse; I’m pulling out code by the fistful. Fix it later.

Warren is crouching next to Kess. He glances up at Sasha and shakes his head. There’s blood all over his hands. I can’t tell if she’s dead or not; she defies my sensors. She’s not moving. What kind of avatar bleeds?

 

Weapons systems online
Weapons systems offline

 

Come on, come on. Almost there. Give me something!

 

External sensors

CAMERON: (to the mob circled around her, Sasha, Warren, Swann, and the fallen Kess) Stand down! It’s not worth dying over.

INTERLOPER #4: (French) We’ll die either way!

SWANN: (growling as he pans his aim across the roiling mob) It’s not working, Chief.

CAMERON: Steady, Swann. Hold your position.

SWANN: We gotta move.

CAMERON: I said hold.

(To the side, where he hopes the SecOffs can’t see it, a young man darts forward to grab the gun of one of the men bleeding on the ground.)

 

Weapons systems online
Defensive lasers powering up

 

Yes!

 

Ship to crew comms

STARRY: Hold still, everyone. My turn.

 

External sensors

(A hum rises from the ship and bright white light spears across the platform, striking an inch in front of the young man who just picked up a weapon. He squeaks and drops the gun as he flinches back. The tar-sheet smokes where it hit.

More lasers arc out from the turrets on the ship’s sides, cutting a circle around the group of Starwalker crew and friends. The mob skitters back a few steps. A deep score smoulders in a perfect semi-circle.)

STARRY: (voice only, projecting from external speakers) That’s enough! Stand down, all of you. This ship is not your way off this planet.

INTERLOPER #5: It is if we make it!

STARRY: I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if you force me to.

(Stragglers are increasingly moving around the edges of the central mob, trying to take advantage of the attention focussed there. At the base of the ramp, the heavy drones rotate two of their hands to bring up their cutting torches. Twin blue flames spark to life.

At the forward part of the ship, lasers spear downwards, drawing a line around the Starwalker‘s periphery that makes those approaching it shy away.)

ROSIE: (under the ship’s nose, grinning hard and hefting her weapon meaningfully) Try again, I dare ya.

ELLIOTT: (muttering as he works on the second clamp, not tearing his attention away for a second) Yeah, that’ll help. Invite them to shoot at us, why don’t you. (Louder,) Starry, I’m almost through.

STARRY: (voice only, over crew comms) Ready to power up the moment it comes off.

CAPT: (backing up the ramp and keeping his eye on the stragglers who are within range of his weapon) Starry, get airborne as soon as you can.

STARRY: You bet your ass I will, captain.

(A knot stragglers seem to be weighing their chances of making a mad dash for the open cargo bay doors; a spurt of a laser slices across in front of them as a deterrent.)

 

Dammit, I don’t want to hurt anyone. I see the world in minute measurements; I can pinpoint an ant on the next platform over. I can avoid hurting them if I want to. But I don’t know how much longer the threat of being sliced up is going to keep them back. I can’t even pull my punches; it’s hard to be gentle with weapons designed to deal with rock and metal.

And if I take off as soon as the clamps release, how are my crew going to get back on board? No, that’s okay, I have a solution. It’s like chess: all about getting the pieces in the right places.

 

ELLIOTT: I’m done! Clamps off!

 

Docking clamps released
Powering up
Engines online
Thrusters online
All systems online

 

I’m free! Those goddamn clamps are falling away from me, their heads broken like trodden-on daisies. Stupid things.

 

(Thrusters flare and wings unfold, turning to aim their power downwards. The ship lifts only half a metre before the legs fold up. The thrusters at her nose are carefully disabled, so that Rosie and Elliott aren’t battered in the backwash.

The captain is standing in the airlock. In front of him, the ramp is retracting. The heavy drones below split up: Big Ass heads for the two crewmembers under the ship’s forward section, while Wide Load makes best speed towards where the SecOffs are covering Kess.

The ship turns slowly, spinning until her nose is hovering over the centre of the mob. The gathered people cringe back from the roar of thrusters holding her steady and even.

With the ship hovering tantalisingly low and the ramp retreating out of reach, a pair of girls make a dash for it. A laser burst stabs one of them through the middle and she crumples; a shot from the captain’s weapon flings the other off the end of the ramp. Starry hurriedly seals the ramp away and uses her lasers to cut another line around her friends below.)

STARRY: (voice only, projecting from external speakers) Now, who wants to see me do an impression of a crazy discoball? Anyone? No? Then BACK. THE FUCK. OFF.

(She fires a few random laser shots over the crowd’s heads for emphasis, and they fall back with shrieks and arms flung up over their heads.)

 

External communications line

PORT AUTH: Starwalker, we’re getting reports of clamp malfunctions and firing from…

STARRY: Do I have clearance for immediate dust-off?

PORT AUTH: No, we’re asking–

STARRY: Then stop bothering me until I do. Busy here.

 

Crew comms

CAPT: Chief, can you get Kess on board?

STARRY: I can lower the ramp when you’re ready.

CAMERON: Do my best, captain. (She looks to Warren, who is still kneeling by the fallen avatar.) Get her up, we’re retreating.

WARREN: (glances over his shoulder at Sasha, then shakes his head) She’s dead.

STARRY: (over Cameron’s comms) How can she be dead? She’s a star.

WARREN: Not the star; the avatar. It’s… look, it’s complicated.

SASHA: You really don’t want her on board when she comes back.

CAMERON: (frowning) You wanna explain that some more?

SASHA: The name of our ship wasn’t enough of a clue? The Firebird. Because she’s the goddamn phoenix. She dies for a while, then she comes back. With… (Her hand flurry expressively.) …lots of flamey.

WARREN: But in the meantime, her consciousness is… well, we don’t know where she goes.

CAMERON: (tensing as she glances out at the crowd milling just beyond the laser marks) That is not good.

STARRY: You mean the consciousness that’s spending all its time holding back the sun’s tides?

WARREN: (nodding grimly) That one.

 

Oh, shit. Our job just got urgent. And pointy. And really fucking scary. Without Kess to rein in the solar flares, it’s going to get messy down here.

Oh god, all these people.

It’s going to be another six minutes before I know what effect the avatar’s death has on the star. Six minutes and counting.

The captain just checked his forearm readout; he’s thinking the same thing. My avatar is leaning over and pointing to a countdown I’ve transmitted to him. 5:53, 5:52… He nods, knowing what it means.

 

CAPT: Starry, how long until security get here?

STARRY: About a minute at their current rate.

CAPT: (over comms) Crew, get back to the ship. Warren, can you and Sasha handle things down there from here on out?

WARREN: (nodding and looking down at Kess. He smooths the hair off her forehead. If it wasn’t for the blood, it would look like she was sleeping.) Yeah, we can handle it.

SASHA: You guys better hurry if you’re gonna do what you need to.

CAPT: Just how bad is it?

SASHA: (shrugs) Last time she died, earthquakes tried to rip the Ring of Fire up by the roots.

 

That was seventeen years ago; I have files on it, and Danika remembers the stories. Earthquakes and volcano eruptions rippled around the Pacific rim as if some great hand was trying to twist the continental plate. Millions died. So much ash was thrown up that it cast half the planet into darkness for a few days. It was one of the worst natural disasters in Earth’s history.

That’s the last time the doomsayers went to town. Now they’re back and whipping up frightened people like this mob. They’re fulfilling their own prophecies. They just killed the sun and it’s going to bite back. It’s going to bite hard. Because in the time since Kess last died, I Stepped through Terra Sol and made her worse.

 

ELLIOTT: (now standing under one of the wings and looking at the loose ring of people gathering around him and Rosie) Uh, how are we supposed to…

STARRY: Opening Cargo Bay 4 for you; it’s right overhead.

ROSIE: How do we get up there?

STARRY: Your ride’s almost there.

 

Big Ass is a couple of seconds from reaching them. He flares his cutting torches at people and they get out of his way. Or he just knocks them down; neither of us care about that right now. Wide Load is making a similar journey toward the other SecOffs.

 

STARRY: Chief, ride’s coming up behind you. The drone’s thrusters should be able to carry two against this gravity.

CAMERON: (nods) Swann, fall back. Warren, Sasha, you’ll be all right?

STARRY: Port Security is breaching the back of the group now. Coming in from the north. They’re firing suppression measures.

(On the far side of the mob, gases hiss and plume. People start to cough and crumple, knocked out by the chemical attack. The crowd surges away from the new threat as people try to get out of range.)

WARREN: We’ll be fine. Go.

SWANN: (moves towards the incoming drone at an oblique angle, swinging his weapon around in wary arcs to dissuade anyone from trying anything. When he gets close enough, he steps up on the drone’s tracks. A cutting torch flicks off and one of Wide Load’s metal arms wraps around Swann’s waist.)

 

ELLIOTT: (eyeing Big Ass, who has just turned off his torches invitingly) Please tell me you’re kidding.

STARRY: It’s the best way. Hurry, Elliott, there isn’t much time.

ELLIOTT: (steps onto the drone reluctantly, his hands gripping tight despite the metal arm that curls around him. On his shoulder, Byte tilts a look at his much larger brother and takes a better hold of Elliott’s collar.)

ROSIE: (eyes the drone and grins) Ain’t ever boring around here. (She hops up onto the drone’s tracks, swinging her weapon around wildly. Those nearest shy back from its aim, though she’s not firing. Yet.)

BIG ASS: (secures his hold on his passengers and fires up his manoeuvring thrusters. He thrums and it’s a couple of seconds before he lifts off, straining against gravity and the mass he’s trying to move.)

ELLIOTT: (squeezes his eyes shut) Holy fucking…

ROSIE: WHOO HOO.

 

They coming back to me. I’m almost free to go. Port Authority haven’t given me clearance to leave the port but they’ve had their chance. I’ll find my own way off-planet if I have to.

 

WIDE LOAD: (offers emergency breathers to Warren and Sasha with a spare hand.)

CAMERON: (climbs aboard the drone.)

SASHA: (takes the breathers and hands one to her friend) Thanks.

WARREN: (still kneeling by the dead avatar, he doesn’t look up as he slides the mask on.)

CAMERON: Good luck.

WIDE LOAD: (activates his thrusters.)

INTERLOPER #5: They’re leaving! Quick! (He rushes forward.)

 

Harried by a cloud of suppressant gas and seeing their goal escaping, the mob are braving my lasers and leaping at the drones. I can barely keep Warren and Sasha safe. I’m hovering and growling, I’m turning to blast them with my thrusters, but warnings aren’t doing it any more. They’re rushing at us anyway. I fire and some of them fall. My SecOffs are shooting and kicking at them, and I try not to care about how many are being hurt. Killed.

Wide Load is struggling to maintain altitude. Come on, big fella, you can do it. They’re not built for this, but I know it’s within the heavy drones’ capabilities. Get our people home, boys.

Big Ass is inside! Cargo Bay 4 doors closing, sealing them in. There’s nothing the mob can throw at me that can scratch my hull. Elliott, my Elliott, is safe.

Cameron and Swann are almost inside too. Just a few more seconds.

The port’s security forces are sweeping across the platform now, preceeded by their gas cloud. I can’t tell the dead from the sleeping unless I sharpen my sensors. There are only a few runners left, trying to escape, and I don’t care about them.

 

External communications line

STARRY: Port Authority, requesting immediate exit vector.

PORT AUTH: Starwalker, you need to land for security investigations into the incident on platform A-16. Please proceed to–

STARRY: Not a chance in hell. I’m transmitting the sensor logs of the incident to you; we have nothing to add to that. Give me an exit vector or I’ll find my own.

PORT AUTH: You must submit to security–

Communications line terminated

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

(Wide Load lands with a judder and a sideways skid across the airlock floor. Swann jumps free; Cameron rides out the slide and then steps down calmly. The airlock doors close and seal behind them.)

STARRY: (relaxing her worried pose) Captain, the Port Authority is demanding that we land again.

CAPT: (shoulders his weapon and glances at his holographic forearm readout. 3:14.) Get us out of range of the geostorms but stay within the port’s boundaries.

STARRY: But we have to get to the star and–

CAPT: (turning to look at her) I don’t think they’ll be able to demand anything of us in three minutes.

STARRY: (eyes widening) Ascending to upper atmosphere.

 

He’s right. Of course he’s right. We don’t want to leave with everyone pissed off at us; we have enough problems already with the Judiciary after us. I’ll tell the Port Authority that I’ll stay in a holding pattern until their security is ready to talk to us. And then… when the surge hits, if it’s as bad as we think it’ll be, we’ll be the last thing they care about. They’ll never notice when we slip away.

 

STARRY: (shipwide) Everyone, please strap in. I think it’s gonna get rough.

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11 Responses to “Holding back the tide”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow…

    Poor Kess…

    *hugs Starry and Melanie*

    *looking forward to the next update*

    mjkj

  2. Francisco Says:

    How do Warren and Sasha protect Kess whilst the mob is there? How do they make sure that Kess doesn’t start a fire when she recovers?

    I’m beginning to wonder if keeping everything a secret is that good an idea. I think telling the port authority exactly who was shot and the practical implications of that may be a better course of action.

  3. Marcus Says:

    How do you convince the Authority that the mob shot and (kinda)killed a star? Near as we can see the implications are “earth is screwed” that might be a hard thing to explain.

  4. Francisco Says:

    Marcus, I think that’s not so hard:

    1) Timing of event: Predicting when a wave of sun activity is going to hit (i.e. Starry’s countdown).
    2) Sharing the footage and observations of when Kess first came on board.

    I think the harder part of the plan is to convince people to treat Kess like another sapient lifeform. The biggest problem I see with Kess being unmasked is that people may relate to her as if she was a god or worse. I doubt that that’s what Kess wants and I doubt it would help in the long term.

  5. mjkj Says:

    …or they treat her as a culprit to all the bad things happening lately and kill her again…

  6. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – thanks! *hugs* for you too. πŸ˜€

    Francisco – Kess doesn’t need to be protected from the mob; she’s already dead. The trickiest bit is stopping Warren and Sasha being trampled, but Starry and the suppressant gas helped with that.

    Marcus – I agree, I don’t think that Starry would have been believed. That’s a lot to swallow! She would have had to share a lot of data and compromised herself to do try that.

    And Francisco and mjkj are right too – being unmasked (officially) won’t do Kess any favours. She has wings and can be on fire – god, devil, angel, demon, witch; she has probably been called all of those over the course of her history. πŸ˜‰

    To answer Francisco’s other question – about what happens when Kess comes back – the captain asked if Warren and Sasha could handle things with Kess. They said they could, so he’s leaving it in their more experienced hands. Maybe Starry and her crew will come back later to help out; who knows? πŸ™‚

  7. Gabriel Says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post! Reminded me of some of the things that were discussed way back when we were talking that collaborative work with the group – and I love what you did with it!

    One thing – thing implication was it would be 8 minutes, right, until the effects of Kess’ death would be felt on earth? Shouldn’t it be 16? I mean, it would be 8 minutes for the star itself to feel the effects of Kess’ death, and then another 8 for that to propagate back out again. Or is Kess linked somehow faster-than-light to the sun?

  8. mjkj Says:

    Well, as we know from before the pattern of activity showed up on the avatar in real time and 8 minutes later on the scanners of Starry. So there must be a faster than light connection because the avatar is the same entity than the sun — on two different locations (and sizes etc.).

    mjkj

  9. mjkj Says:

    gah, sorry for the typo:
    …is the same entity *as* the sun…

  10. Melanie Says:

    Gabriel – yup! This is based on some of the stuff we talked about, pulling out some of the ideas I had back then. So glad you like it. πŸ˜€ Thanks!

    mjkj is right – Kess’s link with the sun is instantaneous, but it’ll take 8 minutes for the light of that reaction to reach Earth.

    It’s possible that I need to look up the gravity/magnetic implications, but shhh, I’ve got until Wednesday to figure that out. πŸ˜‰

  11. mjkj Says:

    Oh, did not think of that — the gravity/magnetic storm might take a bit longer to arrive since they might not travel with the speed of light…