09 Oct

Inevitability

[Note: this is part of chapter 4.4 that was removed and rewritten. Alternate timeline only. Skip to No Cake Left to continue the real story.]

Ship's log, 15:33, 7 October 2214
Location: Standard orbit distance from the Cerces black hole horizon
Status: Orbiting

 

Location: outside the Captain's Cabin

(The captain’s door is closed and the panel in the centre of it shows red. To the right of it, Waldo squats patiently out of the way.)

LANG LANG: (arrives slowly, a frown kindling when she sees the red panel) Starry?

STARRY: (resolving to Lang Lang’s left) Not yet, I’m afraid.

LANG LANG: He said to be here at noon.

STARRY: I know. He’s still not ready. (She hesitates.) He already knows what your answer is, Lang Lang.

LANG LANG: But I haven’t had a chance to explain…

STARRY: I know. He’s busy working some stuff out, that’s all. I’ll let you know when he’s available to talk.

LANG LANG: (opens her mouth to say something, then changes her mind and sighs, nodding at the hologram) Thank you.

STARRY: (smiles at her navigator.)

LANG LANG: (reflects the smile sadly and turns to return to her quarters.)

 

It has been like this for hours and I don’t see it letting up anytime soon.

I’m not supposed to peek into the crew quarters. I used to have protocols that stopped me, but my privacy locks were compromised a long time ago and have never truly been restored. I try to be good: I monitor their vital signs all the time anyway and I only sneak glimpses when I think I need to. Lately, I have needed to.

More than anyone else, I have been keeping an eye on my captain. He doesn’t know. Last night, I almost stepped in. Said something. I’m careful about only interfering where I have to but sometimes, it’s so hard to just watch.

He didn’t get a wink of sleep last night. He paced back and forth so much that I started to worry about the integrity of the deck-coverings in his cabin. When he got tired of pacing, he sat down at his desk and drank and drank and drank.

I wanted to do something. Talk to him. Tell him it’s going to be okay, though I’m not sure that it is. Call the doctor in case the captain was poisoning himself. Scream at him for falling apart when we need him. Beg him not to beat himself against my fittings when his composure finally broke and he started to throw things in his cabin, bouncing objects off my bulkhead, causing dents and scratches and spillages on the flooring.

But I couldn’t. He deserves his privacy and he was working his shit out. He wanted to numb his feelings, and vent them when they wouldn’t go away. I get it. He needs to be able to work through this stuff in his own way, without the pressure of prying eyes or infuriatingly helpful suggestions. I understand and despise it at the same time.

The cups didn’t break the way he wanted. The bottle didn’t shatter. These things are built to not break to protect their longevity – and him, too – and I have no switch to make them into cathartic victims of emotional pain. I would readily sacrifice every cup in my Mess Hall if smashing them would make him feel better.

I haven’t even dared to send Waldo in to clean up the mess. He’s waiting out here with me for that moment when the captain is ready for an intrusion.

Right now, he’s pacing again, back and forth, pausing only to turn on his heel or nudge a bottle out of his way with his toe. He pauses every now and then to call up an interface and search for a specific bit of data. It’s never the bit he wants, though; he waves the interface off angrily and goes back to pacing.

I know what he’s looking for. I think that’s why I haven’t stepped in; why my coded-in desire to help my captain hasn’t forced me to speak up yet. I know I have no answer to give him, no alternatives, no other way out. I don’t have any viable options for getting away from Cerces without giving someone up, and I’ve been running my scenario processors non-stop for days. We are all stuck in this together.

The only time I have spoken with him today is to tell him that Lang Lang and the Chief were outside his door, at noon on the dot. The only thing he has said to me today is to send them away.

He knew what their answer would be. He knew as soon as he laid out the situation for them yesterday: he could see it in their faces as clearly as I could. The Chief would give up her life for the crew because it’s her duty to protect them. Lang Lang would readily take on such a burden because it’s the type of person she is: selfless and generous.

I think he knew as soon as he told them that it wasn’t what he wanted us to do. I think he has been searching for another way to solve this since then. But he wouldn’t have told them if he wasn’t already sure that it was the only way. Maybe that’s part of what’s frustrating him so much.

Seeing him like this scares me. I don’t like all this prevaricating, second-guessing and searching for another way out. I’m used to it being all so clear. I’m used to knowing exactly which way to go and gunning for it, even if it was dangerous, even if we were unlikely to make it through. Danger scares me far less than indecision.

This, though. This is torture. Right now, I’m not sure if any answer we come up with will feel like the right one. We’ve run over and over the issue so much that we can’t see it any more: in all this mud where everything is the same colour, how can we tell good from bad?

I wish he would make a decision. Whatever it might be. Even if I hate it. At least we would have a direction, then. We would have a way to move through this, and then past it, and it could all be over. This waiting, these tenter-hooks, it’s all too painful to bear.

I’m going to start counting pico-seconds soon, just to have something else to occupy my processors with.

 

(The door to the captain’s cabin swishes open and the captain strides out. His uniform is fresh, the creases still crisp as if he has just pulled it on. His long hair is wild, streaking behind him as he heads down the corridor, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

When the captain is a couple of steps out of his cabin, Waldo’s hand comes out to stop the door from closing again. He trundles inside and looks around, then whirrs off towards a corner, hands out and grasping.)

 

There goes the captain. It’s not clear where he’s going yet; he pulled up the crew locations before he left his cabin but it wasn’t obvious who he was looking for. Has he had an idea? His expression is closed, so I can’t tell. He’s moving like a determined man, driven, but without the lightness that I’d expect if he had a solid lead for us to follow.

It’s possible that I’m over-analysing things. Perhaps I’ll just wait and see what he does.

There, he’s heading down to Med Bay. So it’s the doctor he wants.

 

Location: Med Bay

(The Lieutenant is leaning on the edge of the doctor’s desk, casually straightening Dr Valdimir’s collar with the metal fingers of one hand.)

HALF-FACE: No-one thinks it’s your fault.

DR SOCKS: (frowning at the SecOff) Well good, because it’s not.

HALF-FACE: (smiling to himself and patting the straightened collar) It’ll be all right, Argy. You’ll see.

DR SOCKS: (sighs and almost returns that smile) Yeah.

STARRY: (voice only) Heads up, fellas, you have incoming.

DR SOCKS: (stiffens and knocks the Lieutenant’s hand away) What do you–

CAPTAIN: (strides through the Med Bay doors.)

DR SOCKS: …oh. Captain.

HALF-FACE: (goes to stand behind the doctor’s chair.)

CAPT: (nods to the two men) Doctor, Lieutenant. I need to talk to you about the potential range on Cerces’s psychic links.

DR SOCKS: All right. We don’t have any actual data to go on, though, except where he noticed that we were leaving, and how far we got before we were forced to turn back. That doesn’t really help us make a good prediction: the effect got stronger before we stopped, not weaker.

CAPT: Is it possible for him to find us if we were to suddenly be several systems away?

DR SOCKS: That far? A few hundred light years?

CAPT: Or more.

DR SOCKS: (shrugs non-commitally) Hard to say. It seems to make sense that he probably wouldn’t be able to reach outside his own system, but as a black hole, he shouldn’t be able to emit anything. The fact that he’s able to communicate with us at all is, quite frankly, a violation of black hole physics as we understand it. So it’s hard to know what rules this method of communication might follow, if it has any at all.

CAPT: (falls thoughtfully quiet.)

HALF-FACE: We know he can reach Earth.

CAPT: (surprised) We do?

DR SOCKS: (sends a frown over his shoulder, then blinks and regards the Lieutenant curiously) Of course. He talked to Kess. Nearly fried Lang Lang’s brain doing it. So he must be able to contact Terra Sol, which means… (He looks to the captain again.)

CAPT: (nods grimly) Which means he can communicate across systems, and we have no good indication of his range.

DR SOCKS: You were thinking about Stepping out of his range of influence

CAPT: Right now, I’m open to any ideas that don’t involve us losing someone. Do you have any ideas, both of you?

HALF-FACE: (considers for a moment, then slowly shakes his head.)

DR SOCKS: Not really. We could try Stepping to a different galaxy but that doesn’t really help us should we ever want to talk to another human again, and it’s not guaranteed that it would work. Or we could just leave the kid behind.

CAPT: (frowns) We are not leaving a child behind.

HALF-FACE: We wouldn’t do that.

DR SOCKS: (shrugs) I’m just saying that Cerces would go for it. He’d look after her well enough.

CAPT: Keeping her alive by bringing her back from the dead is not looking after her. She needs people, her own kind, and a chance at a real life.

DR SOCKS: (holds up his hands) I’m just saying it’s an option.

CAPT: (slams his hand down on the desk) I want one that doesn’t involve losing anyone! That includes everyone on board this ship.

DR SOCKS: (jumps, startled.)

HALF-FACE: (puts a hand quietly on the doctor’s shoulder.)

CAPT: (takes a breath and steps back) I’m sorry. If you think of anything, I’ll be in my cabin. (He turns on his heel and leaves.)

DR SOCKS and HALF-FACE: (exchange a glance.)

 

I’ve never seen him lose it like that in front of his crew. He’s raking his fingers through his hair the way he does when he’s frustrated and angry, and this time I think he’s furious with himself. Waldo’s not even partly done with cleaning up his cabin and he’s going to go back there and break some more stuff.

I don’t really blame him. If there was an asteroid belt anywhere near here, I’d be over there blowing the stuffing out of some rocks, too. Of course, Cerces already ate all the asteroids in this sector.

 

Location: Crew corridor

(The captain stomps up the corridor to his cabin at the end. One of the doors is open but he doesn’t notice.)

LANG LANG: (peeks out once he has swept past, staring at his back.)

CAPT: (swipes the door to his cabin closed behind him. It locks with a quiet snick and the panel in the centre of it blinks red.)

LANG LANG: (softly) Starry?

STARRY: (appearing just outside Lang Lang’s door) Yes?

LANG LANG: He’s very upset.

STARRY: He doesn’t like how this is all going. There’s no good way out of this.

LANG LANG: But we have a way out…

STARRY: No good way, Lang Lang. Losing someone isn’t a suitable option.

LANG LANG: (expression falling) I suppose not. What do you think he’ll do?

STARRY: (gazing at the closed door down the corridor) I’m not sure. He’s trying to find another way.

LANG LANG: He wants to save everyone.

STARRY: He’s our captain.

LANG LANG: (gives the avatar a smile that is equal parts fondness, acceptance, and sadness) He is. Something will come up, Starry, don’t worry.

STARRY: (looks at the navigator again) I’m supposed to be the one telling you that.

LANG LANG: We’re all here for each other. Something will turn up; I’m sure of it.

STARRY: (sighs) It had better, and soon.

LANG LANG: (nods and steps back into her quarters with a thoughtful expression. The door whispers closed.)

STARRY: (avatar dissolves.)

 

She seems so sure. I wish I had her faith, but it’s hard to believe in possibilities when I have logic engines telling me that our options are limited and all involve losing something important to us.

Maybe there’s something that the rest of us can’t see: the captain, me, the Lieutenant, even the doctor, the smartest man on board. What does it say when the best I can hope for is that we’re wrong?

What do you think of this post?
  • Love it (3)
  • OMG (1)
  • Hilarious (0)
  • Awww (0)

10 Responses to “Inevitability”

  1. thomas Says:

    Conundrums make great segues. Thanks Melanie

  2. Zjoske Says:

    It seems like Lang Lang has already decided she will accept the offer.

  3. Allan Says:

    I like it!

  4. Francisco Says:

    Zjoske, they both have. That means that the Captain has to decide which one lives and which one dies. I suspect that’s part of the reason why the captain is trying so hard to find another solution. If just one volunteered, it’d be easy but now he feels that he is being asked to cold decide which of his crew should die.

    Now I’m thinking of that episode of ST:TNG when Dr Crusher is sitting the Engineering exam for a command position. I think it was Dr Crusher.

  5. Francisco Says:

    Sorry, I’ve found a write up to the episode it was Cousellor Troi in the episode Thine Own Self.

  6. Francisco Says:

    That should be:

    Sorry, I’ve found a write up to the episode in question. It was Cousellor Troi in the episode Thine Own Self.

  7. thomas Says:

    Francisco, I don’t think the Captain it trying to decide who dies but rather he is trying to find a way that no one dies. Now that he has been reminded Kess can talk to them, maybe he should ask for advice.

    I wonder what would happen if someone took the decision away from the Captain? Melanie’s ending implies that might have already happened.

  8. Ping Says:

    It’s almost like there’s an abbreviated conversation back in 3.2 everyone should be rereading. 😛

  9. mjkj Says:

    Well, I hope they will find a way – maybe they can talk with Tess and she does have a suggestion? 😕

  10. Andrul Says:

    They can clone limbs, yes? Why not an entire body? I think they also have tech to accelerate the growth process, otherwise somebody with a lost limb would have to wait approx 1.8 decades for a cloned limb to reach maturity.

    I did not click the square because I am not a real person.