Captain's log, 15:57, 21 July 2214 Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Docked and powered down Log location: Captain's cabin
This is Captain Warwick reporting on the situation at Sarabande Station.
Things here continue to be… as crazy as ever. We are dealing with the ghosts as best we can, which is no solution to the problem but might stave off the fate that left this station so empty. For a while, at least.
The people of Sarabande Station were like us: abandoned by their company to survive however they could in a damaging situation. Only a handful of them made it this far: a maintenance mechanic; a young child watched over by a nanny-bot; and a man whose mind snapped months before we arrived. The rest of the life signs we can detect on the station seem to be animals, scraping a life from what has been left behind.
There won’t be anyone coming for them. Their only hope is us.
And we are left with a choice. The Starwalker‘s engines are fixed. She has passed all of her structural integrity tests and Monaghan is satisfied that she’s spaceworthy. He’s still working on her less critical systems, but she’s self-sufficient again. There’s nothing that he couldn’t work on in transit, nothing he needs the station for beyond supplies to stuff our cargo holds with.
We could leave.
If only it was that simple. There are so many things that keep us here, enough that no-one is truly talking about undocking and burning our way out of this whole damned sector. The whole crew knows we have unfinished business here.
We still have injured who are best cared for in the station’s Med Bay; it has more extensive equipment than our standard ship-board offering. Lang Lang’s leg is still being reconstructed and Dr Valdimir wants to keep an eye on its progress using the station’s medical scanner. Reconstructions can be tricky and take time, and according to the doctor’s report, there was a lot of damaged tissue to be replaced.
Starry also wants to try to revive the crew we have in storage, now that we have equipment likely to be up to the job and no-one around who will ask questions. She’s right; we owe it to them to try, and to delay would be selfish to say the least. We shouldn’t keep them in cryogenic storage as symbols of a future hope, afraid to see it tested in case it fails. It’s time to find out if we really can get them back.
We might be able to save them, but I can’t say the same about our Chief Cameron. The doctor believes she’s gone and never coming back, and I have no reason to doubt him. He may not be the most personable character but he’s good at what he does. At some point we have to break the news to the crew. I’ve been delaying it because my people need a chance to recover from everything that has happening and is happening. They deserved to be happy when Lang Lang woke up and I can’t bring myself to spoil the lightness she brings to the group. We’ll leave that announcement for now, I think. It’s not time, not yet.
Medical issues are one thing, but they’re not everyone’s chief concern. More than anything else, it’s the situation that haunts this system that is holding us here. When we welcomed Lang Lang back, the crew agreed that if we don’t try to tackle the source of the haunting, it’ll probably never be fixed. The data we have at our disposal combined with the Step drive technology could be the key we need to put these ghosts to rest, so to speak. We have a responsibility here. A duty of care to these people we’ve found. A job we believe that no other ship or crew could do.
The station’s remaining population might survive just fine if we left, but is surviving enough? I don’t believe that. Iggulden, the Acting Commander of the station, seems to have adjusted the best to the situation, and he barely leaves his cave. He pulled down all of the sensors in his cave so that he could lose himself in the illusions when he wanted to.
Dr Valdimir’s report on Brenn Haitom states that he had a psychotic break and now has a shaky relationship with reality at best. It’s unlikely that he’ll recover outside of a dedicated psychiatric facility, if at all. He seems to enjoy a peculiar insight into this black hole entity but it remains to be seen whether he can be of any material help to us as we try to communicate with it. But he hardly seems content in his incarceration and I can’t say whether it would be right or humane to leave him there.
And then there’s little Sara. She deserves a better life than a nanny ‘bot, a station full of ghosts, and a whale that whispers to her. We can’t let her stay here. Even though I swore I’d never have a child aboard my ship again, I won’t leave her behind.
But before any of that, we need to resolve this ghost phenomenon. Dr Valdimir has been working on some possible avenues of communication, and he believes that our best course of action is some kind of induced coma. Perhaps by emulating the condition that Lang Lang was recently in and retaining enough consciousness to direct a conversation, we can make real contact with this entity. Black hole, avatar, ghost of a dead star: it’s hard to say what it is, but we’re all sure we need to talk to it. Because it’s apparently trying to talk to us. And who are we to refuse such an invitation? I’d be lying if I didn’t think that part of the reason we want to stay here is the novelty of it all. Most of our science contingent may have been lost along the way, but I suppose we all want to be part of a discovery like this.
The main question we have to answer right now is: who. Who is best placed to conduct this conversation with our ghost-master? Valdimir has the intelligence and skills to do it, but he says that he’s needed to monitor the situation on a medical level. There is only a small physical risk involved in the process, but we don’t know what the mental or emotional risks are. We cannot gamble with the one person who might be able to heal the impacts of our experiment.
After all, we don’t know what broke Brenn Haitom’s mind.
If not the doctor, then who? None of my people are expendable. There are simply questions we cannot answer and risks we have no way to mitigate. Can I chance the life of any of them with this? Can I ask any of them to do it?
No, it should be me who steps into this tunnel.
Though I’m not sure about–
STARRY: (voice only) Excuse me, captain?
CAPTAIN: (lifts his gaze from the surface of his desk) Yes, Starry?
STARRY: (appears before his desk) I wanted to ask about the Celestial Strider.
CAPT: (leans back in his chair) What about it? Has something changed?
STARRY: No. Well, yes.
CAPT: What happened?
STARRY: I got fixed. I can go get them out of there now.
CAPT: Now isn’t the time, Starry. We have a lot to deal with here.
STARRY: They have a lot to deal with out there. They’re closer to it, and they’re trapped there. And it’s us who put them there.
CAPT: (frowning) I’m aware of that.
STARRY: Then don’t we owe it to them to get them out?
CAPT: It’s risky. They could turn on us. They could even outnumber us.
STARRY: You said we’d go get them. You promised.
STARRY: You don’t have to be there. I can do it on my own. Maybe just take Elliott, in case something breaks. You can be waiting at whatever dock we put them at with the SecOffs and whoever else wants to hold a gun.
CAPT: It’s not my habit to let my ship go off without me.
STARRY: And it’s not my habit to leave any of my people behind, either. But you promised. And so did I, to them.
CAPT: (gives her a long look) This is important to you, isn’t it?
STARRY: (glances down at her toes) She’s my sister. And they’re not doing well out there.
CAPT: You’ve been talking to them?
STARRY: (nods) Most days. They check in with the station pretty regularly, asking where their rescue is.
CAPT: And the ship, is she like you?
STARRY: What? No, she’s a regular AI.
CAPT: You just seem very attached to this sister.
STARRY: I… it’s just… it’s hard to explain. She’s… she’s what I should have been. What I could have been. And ships are always made in pairs, you know that. We’re connected. And I put them there, where they are now. What happened wasn’t their fault, none of it was.
Captain, they’ve been seeing the ghosts longer than we have, and chasing the damage around in their ship, just trying to maintain position and stay alive. They sound more tired every time I talk to them. They can’t keep this up forever, and we can’t just leave them there. It’s not… it’s not us.
CAPT: (sighs and smooths his hair back with one hand) No, you’re right: we can’t leave them out there.
STARRY: (brightening) So we can go get her?
CAPT: (leans forward, placing his elbows on his desk) I want an integrity report from Monaghan to verify that your bulkheads can take the stresses of pulling a ship of that mass out of a gravity well. He’ll have to rig something up, no doubt; you’re no tug-boat. And call Brasco and Laurence in for a chat about security. Do we know how many crew the Strider has?
STARRY: Seven at last report.
CAPT: All right. And get me a report of weapon stocks and locations on board the station.
STARRY: Yup, done. (Her gaze slips past the captain and confusion flutters over her face.)
CAPT: What is it?
STARRY: (softly) Dav– (She blinks and shakes her head, then looks at the captain again.) Nothing. Elliott must be playing with my systems.
CAPT: Tell him not to scramble anything. Did you need anything else?
STARRY: I… no. I’ll ask Elliott to get right on that report. Can I tell them we’re coming to get them soon, then? Like, today, or tomorrow?
CAPT: Don’t make any promises yet, Starry. Let’s get ourselves set up for it first.
STARRY: (presses her lips together and takes a breath as if she’s about to speak.)
CAPT: (holds up a hand before she can) But soon. Valdimir and I are figuring out a plan for this black hole avatar; Monaghan and the SecOffs can work on this. All right?
STARRY: (relaxes into a smile) Okay.
CAPT: (nods) Dismissed.
STARRY: (flips a casual salute and disappears.)
It’s moments like this when I’m glad I didn’t go into the military. Her salutes always irritated Cameron, though the Chief never said anything about it. Some things are ingrained in us from too many years walking in the same lines.
Anyway. Where was I?
The plan to talk to the black hole. It sounds ludicrous when I say it out loud, but it’s the truth. There’s a consciousness there and we mean to contact it, somehow.
And now, closer to home, we hope to reason with a group of beings who have solid reasons to be furious with – even violent towards – us. We shouldn’t split our focus this way, not with the dangers we’re about to bring onto ourselves. But Starry is right: if we leave the Strider out there too much longer, there might not be anything left to save.
Leaving people to die is not who we are. We have done many questionable things lately, but we can’t let this be one of them.
Perhaps being this close to the abyss, we see ourselves reflected in it far too easily. Or we run from darkness too quickly. It is an effort to remember who we are, even with the ghosts of our past all around us.
(The door chimes as someone requests admittance. The central panel in the door shivers and shows an image of Rosie and the Lieutenant standing outside.)
That was quick. I suspect this ship of ours already had our people lined up and ready to go. Just when does preparedness slide into cheekiness?
Sometimes, she reminds me so much of Danika.
CAPT: (sighing) Enter.