05 Sep

Little whispers

Ship's log, 13:02, 4 October 2214
Location: Standard orbit distance from the Cerces black hole horizon
Status: Orbiting

 

They call space a ‘void’, but this close to a black hole, I’m starting to get a new perspective on the word. Looking into it, into Cerces’s darkness, I see a real void, a nothingness. That’s what it looks like from here: a black so deep and thick that not even light escapes, where you can fall and fall…

In truth, it’s probably the opposite of a void in there. It’s not nothingness at all: it’s all kinds of matter, compacted down and down into this amazing gravity well and a voracious hunger. There’s a whole system of planets in there, along with the burnt-out star that warmed them. Probably a whole slew of comets and asteroids and other passing space junk. My sister and my dead ones are there, too, mixing atoms with the rest.

And somewhere in there is the seat of the consciousness that is plaguing us. It hurt my people in its attempts to talk to us. It made a small child cry like her heart is breaking. It prickles my sensors and hounds the corners of my crew’s eyes with ghosts.

I know that some of my crew are looking at that darkness and wondering if we’ll ever be free of it. Cerces has snagged us, and while my engines might be powerful enough to pull us free of his gravity, they can’t help with this.

In truth, I’m not much use here. I can’t out-fly it, or shoot it, or rip a hole in reality to escape. I can’t even give him a piece of my mind. I’m just a ship, the vessel my people stand in while they try to fix this. Even my comms are useless in this situation. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.

I wonder if I could Step us out of here. Could Cerces still hurt my people if we’re half a galaxy away? Would we be out of his reach then?

But that would mean hurting another star and there’s no guarantee we could get far enough away to be free. Anyway, the captain won’t go for it; he’s determined to make this talking to Cerces work. It’s just not fair. I want to do something.

Instead, I’m sending my drones around with refreshments in this strange little soiree of ours.

 

Location: Bridge

(Along the portside wall, those who were unconscious are now sitting up. Lang Lang and Cameron are calm and quiet. The Strider SecOff, Kinski, has shuffled his back up against the wall and is glancing around nervously. Brenn Haitom is transfixed by the hologram of the black hole in the centre of the room. Sara is rubbing her eyes with one hand and trying to figure out how to hold her stuffed whale and the glass Waldo is offering her in her other hand.

Elliott is sitting at one of the Bridge stations on the opposite side of the room, watching the proceedings and trying to stay out of the way. Rosie is on her feet and is keeping her attention on Kinski and Haitom. Every now and then, she shifts her grip on her weapon.)

CAPTAIN: (to the adults seated on the floor) Do you understand what we’re proposing?

(There are nods from all of them except Haitom, who appears to not be listening.)

DR SOCKS: (sitting at a nearby station with medical information hovering in the air around him) The sedative has cleared their system. There doesn’t seem to be any residue of the earlier… effect.

ROSIE: You mean attack.

CAPT: We’re not sure what it was. I’m sure that if Cerces meant us harm, we’d know it.

ELLIOTT: Seemed pretty harmful from where I was sitting.

LANG LANG: There wasn’t any malice in it. I felt it.

CAPT: Chief?

CAMERON: (grimaces) Lang Lang is right. It wasn’t pleasant, but I didn’t get any indications of malicious intent.

CAPT: And we’re very small. This is why we’re proposing to try sharing the load.

CAMERON: (nods.)

CAPT: Do you all agree? You can opt out if you wish.

LANG LANG: (without hesitation) Of course.

CAMERON: (looking less happy) It seems like something we should try. If we can get the black hole to understand.

CAPT: (looks at Kinski.)

KINSKI: (blinks with surprise) You’re asking me?

CAPT: We need as many as we can get to share the load, if this is going to work.

KINSKI: But… you’re asking me?

CAPT: Yes, it’s still your choice.

KINSKI: Uh. (He glances around at everyone except Rosie, who is glaring at him.) Sure, I’ll help.

CAPT: (turns to Haitom, blinks, then looks to the doctor) Dr Valdimir?

DR SOCKS: He’s as conscious as the rest, but that’s not much of a help. Excluding him might be a good idea.

CAPT: In case he skews the communications?

DR SOCKS: (eyeing Haitom) To say the least.

HAITOM: (shuffles forward on his knees and leans towards the hologram to whisper,) Hello pretty boy.

 

Sometimes, I think Haitom understands more than we give him credit for. Then he does something disgusting or weird and I’m reminded that he’s a few rivets short of a proper seal.

Like now: after saying something that seems to suggest he knows we want to talk to Cerces, he has started taking off his shirt. Because clearly what this scene needs is some nudity. The arms are currently bewildering him, though, and he’s making curious noises from within the wrap of his own clothing. Should keep him busy for a while.

At least he’s not being disruptive or violent. He doesn’t seem to feel the bald patches on his head where he tore his own hair out; a small mercy for all of us, I think.

 

CAPT: (to the three volunteers) Thank you. (He goes to crouch in front of Sara.)

SARA: (has finally stopped rubbing at her eyes and is sipping at the drink from Waldo, whale resting in her lap. She turns big eyes on the captain over the rim of the glass.)

CAPT: Sara, do you think you could help me out?

SARA: (stares at him, non-plussed.)

CAPT: You see, we want to talk to your friend, the whale. Will you help us with that?

SARA: (offers her stuffed toy to the captain) Whale?

CAPT: (gently pushes her hand back down) Not that whale, little one. The other one. Your friend out there. (He nods towards the hull and the black hole beyond.)

 

Cerces is actually on the other side of us. My viewports are closed, so my people don’t have any clues about which way I’m oriented. There, I’ll roll over so he’s on my starboard side and everyone is lined up the same way.

The inertial dampeners mean my people can’t feel the change in orientation but Sara’s expression clears of confusion as soon as I complete the manoeuvre. Coincidence, or can she really feel him, even through my hull?

 

SARA: (nods, watching the captain warily.)

CAPT: (smiles at the child encouragingly) Good girl. We want to talk to your friend about what happened when we tried to leave the system.

SARA: (doesn’t respond.)

CAPT: You remember, when you got upset, and Lang Lang and the Chief were hurting?

SARA: (expression falling) Don’t go.

CAPT: Yes, that’s what we want to talk to him about.

SARA: Can’t!

CAPT: I think you can.

SARA: Can’t go!

CAPT: I know, but…

STARRY: (dropping to a knee next to the captain) Sara, the whale was upset about it, wasn’t he?

SARA: (nods, not taking her eyes off the captain, as if she doesn’t trust him.)

STARRY: We want to help him. Make it better. Will you help us make him feel better?

SARA: (daring a glance at the ship’s avatar) Help whale?

STARRY: Yes. The ca– John wants your help. Will you help us?

SARA: (looks at the captain again) Okay.

CAPT: (sends Starry a grateful glance and then smiles broadly at the child) Good girl, thank you.

 

Since when have I been better with kids than the captain? He must be off his game. He looks tired.

He’s doing fine, silly ship. This isn’t the time to be scanning him for signs of strain; I need to focus on the bigger picture. Keep us orbiting smoothly and monitor everything on board. Keep tabs on the rest of the Strider‘s crew, watch for signs of impending danger or weirdness… I’m not even really sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I sense it.

 

SARA: …light lady help, too?

 

What the hell is she on about now? I was so busy scanning for potential problems I wasn’t paying attention to the conversation. The captain is trying to explain the neural load sharing. To a two-year-old. And now she’s talking about light ladies?

 

CAPT: (sitting beside Sara now) Who is that, little one?

SARA: (as if he’s an idiot) The light lady. (She points.)

STARRY: (blinks.)

ELLIOTT: (munching on a sandwich) She’s not wrong.

STARRY: True. I’ve just never…

ELLIOTT: (grinning) Except that she thinks you’re a lady.

STARRY: Shut up.

CAPT: (suppressing a smile, to Sara) No, she’s not going to be involved.

STARRY: (ignoring Elliott) I’ll be watching over everyone, make sure they’re all right.

SARA: (nods and sips at her drink, almost disappearing behind the glass.)

 

Watching. Monitoring. Feeling damn useless. But I should be grateful: it’s not my brain in the line of fire, for once. I almost wish it was.

Cameron doesn’t look happy about any of this. She’s used to enemies she can see and feel and fight. I want to ask her if she’s all right but she won’t answer me, not here with all these others around. She’d never admit that something was wrong when she needs to be the Chief. She’s pale and shaky, but she’s still getting to her feet as if nothing is amiss. She moves smoothly enough but I can see the tension in her jaw and the tightness around her eyes. I can feel her elevated pulse as she pushes herself.

The doctor can see the signs of strain, too, but he knows better than to challenge her. His eyes narrow and he says nothing, flicking the warnings out of his interface so no-one else sees.

The captain is explaining the sharing for a third time. Now he’s using her drink as a metaphor for trying to carry a whole bucket of water: each person carries a glassful and then no-one has the pain of bearing the whole weight of the bucket. Sara is staring at him in that blank way that makes it impossible to tell if she’s absorbing any of it.

 

CAPT: Do you understand?

SARA: (thinks about it for a moment, then offers the captain her glass) Thirsty?

CAPT: (sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.)

STARRY: No, sweetie, he’s not thirsty. He means, do you understand that when the whale shouts, it’s like dumping a whole bucket on someone and they get hurt.

CAPT: Yes, that’s right. We’d like him to speak to us like he’s giving each person a glass of water. Share it around, quietly.

SARA: (thinks about it for a moment) Little whispers?

CAPT: Yes, little whispers.

SARA: (looks into her glass.)

 

I’m not sure what that means. Does she really understand? Can she? Look at her, so small, one pigtail higher than the other, stroking her stuffed toy like it might arch up and purr at any moment. It seems so unfair for us to put her in the middle of this, but we don’t have a choice. I suppose it was Cerces who truly put her in the middle, though that doesn’t make any of this right.

We do what we have to and hope that it’s enough.

 

STARRY: (to the captain) So, should I give everyone who’s taking part a glass of water?

CAPT: (shoots her a quelling look.)

STARRY: I was just wondering how–

SARA: (lifting her head) Okay.

CAPT: Okay what, little one?

SARA: Whale says okay.

CAPT: He understands what we’re asking him to do?

SARA: (nods) Uh-huh

CAPT: All right. Thank you, you’re a good girl. (Kisses her on the top of the head and then gets to his feet.)

SARA: (beams happily and hugs her whale toy.)

HAITOM: (finally manages to wrest his shirt off his head and flings it aside. He pauses for half a second, then chuckles lowly.)

CAPT: Doctor, we’re probably going to need to sedate…

DR SOCKS: (looks over at the captain and blinks.)

CAPT: (blinks.)

HAITOM: (chuckles trail off, leaving him kneeling there, grinning into space.)

 

Uh…

 

STARRY: (turns around slowly, looking at each person on the Bridge. None of them are moving except,) Sara…

SARA: (beams up at Starry) Whale share now. (She leans towards the avatar and lowers her voice.) Little whispers.

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7 Responses to “Little whispers”

  1. Targetdrone Says:

    uh oh…. guess starry will not be that useless as she thought she would be now with her whole crew temporarily lobotomized ….

  2. Syphax Says:

    And that’s why children aren’t diplomats at the UN, everybody!

  3. thomas Says:

    Haitom needs a good evil laugh like Chucky. This would have been the perfect time for his mad cackle.

    The Captain and Starry completely missed Sara’s hint that Moby wanted to talk to Starry. Elliott might have understood but he decided to be rude instead of helping. Typical for Elliott but I guess the Captain was too tired to pay attention.

    Nice chapter Melanie. Thanks

  4. Francisco Says:

    Syphax, I would have to disagree. I’m misquoting here but it has been said (I think in relation to financial crisis), if you can’t explain what you’re doing in a way that a child could understand you, you’re doing something wrong. If all children were like Sara in temprement and focus they would make good diplomats. The problem is that they are not.

    I also think that thinking down to the level of a child is going to help them with their task of communicating with Cerces. After all, they are communicating with a being that thinks in a different way to them and is used to different creatures.

    We know that, in order to communicate with him, we are probably going to need to build concepts. As he probably has received many notions about humanity from Sara, thinking how a child would think would probably help the process.

    With the growth of mutual understanding, there will be more opportunities for more natural adult conversation.

    The crew are too used to Kess. It was easy to understand her as she already understood human societies and cultures.

  5. Francisco Says:

    Kess also understood what technologies and ideas were available to humans.

  6. Kunama Says:

    Creeeeepy.

    “Anyway, the captain won’t go for it; he’s determined to make this talking to Cerces work.”

    talking to Cerces THING work

  7. blah Says:

    That last sentence is beautifully creepy and chilling.