Ship's log, 16:02, 23 September 2214 Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Docked, powered down
Live feed: station sensors Location: Med Bay
LANG LANG: (comes awake abruptly, sitting up, air snaggling in her throat. She shrieks, shoves herself backwards, skitters right off the edge of the bed, and just keeps on shrieking.)
DR SOCKS: (standing on the other side of the bed, his hands move quickly over the holographic interface in front of him. He doesn’t glance at the navigator; his attention is nailed on the readouts of her condition projected all around him.) Starry! Call in–
STARRY: (voice only) Already on it. Captain’s on his way, be with you in approximately forty seconds. SecOffs are a minute and a half behind him.
DR SOCKS: I don’t need security.
LANG LANG: (gasps raggedly at air, her shrieks tailing off.)
STARRY: That’s not your decision.
DR SOCKS: (muttering) I can handle one freaked-out woman. (Louder, still not looking away from his work,) Lang Lang, it’s all right now.
LANG LANG: (stares without seeing, her eyes glazed. She makes a little whimper, curled up against the cabinet between two beds, and seems to have finished making awful noises.)
DR SOCKS: Good girl, calm down.
CAPTAIN: (arrives at a run, boots squeaking on the floor, hair flying behind him. He goes straight to the foot of Lang Lang’s assigned bed and looks worried when she’s not on it.) Doctor, report!
DR SOCKS: Still gathering data, captain. Lang Lang had a reaction to something in her dream-state; I had to pull her out.
CAPT: (hears the snag of her breathing and spots where Lang Lang is sitting. He steps around the end of the bed and crouches to see her better.) What caused the reaction?
DR SOCKS: That would be the data that still needs to be gathered.
CAPT: (snaps a glance at the doctor.)
DR SOCKS: (meets the captain’s eye) Means I don’t know yet.
CAPT: (returns his attention to Lang Lang.)
LANG LANG: (gazes right through him.)
CAPT: Why does she look like that?
DR SOCKS: I had to control her responses with drugs. She’s calming down now. (He casts a last glance over the readouts and then waves the interface away. It dissolves, leaving only the biorhythm readouts hovering over the bed.)
CAPT: Lang Lang, can you hear me? Are you all right?
DR SOCKS: It’ll take a few minutes for her to come around. I’ve eased up the dose, so she should come out of it soon enough.
CAPT: (glances at the doctor) Your first action was to drug her?
DR SOCKS: (shrugs, moving around the end of the bed to approach his patient) I could have let her continue to experience the anxiety attack, probably hurt herself – and me – and drive herself into a seizure. I decided to save that for another day.
DR SOCKS: It’s a possibility. Hard to say for sure without looking at the data more deeply, and even then that kind of thing is always a maybe. She just needed some help to come down.
STARRY: She’s bleeding. Is that normal?
DR SOCKS: (crouches beside Lang Lang and tilts his head to see her face better. Her nose is bleeding slowly.) Hard to know what ‘normal’ is, considering what we’re trying to do. Scans are picking up some neural scarring.
ROSIE: (arrives at a jog, a big rifle in her hands glowing with a ready charge) Where is she? What happened?
It’s times like this when I notice Cameron’s absence. She would have marched in and snapped, “Status?” She would have assessed the room with a single glance. Rosie is still looking around, careful and thorough but nowhere near as practiced or precise as my former Chief of Security.
Cameron is here. She’s on the other side of the room, lying on a bed, on life support. For now. I can’t believe I just called her ‘former’.
Lang Lang won’t be joining her. She won’t. She’s going to be fine; my people will make sure of that. Won’t they?
HALF-FACE: (walks in behind Rosie, handgun held low and cybernetic eyes scanning. He keeps quiet, as usual.)
CAPT: (rises from his couch and waves the SecOffs to stand down) We’re still assessing the situation, but you don’t need your weapons here.
ROSIE: (glances down at her rifle and shrugs) Habit.
HALF-FACE: (nods at the captain and holsters his weapon.)
On a station full of ghosts and chatty black holes, Rosie’s rifle isn’t much good to her, but I think it makes her feel better. Better than going bare-handed into the dark, I suppose, even if it only bolsters the spirit.
She’s more use than I am. I can’t even synchronise an avatar that far into the station, and I’m certainly not sending my boys all the way down there.
CAPT: Doctor, you said her brain was damaged?
DR SOCKS: (nods) That’s why I pulled her out. I don’t think it’s serious – probably just superficial cell damage – but we need further scans to be sure. It’s most likely behind the nosebleed.
ROSIE: (flipping the safety on her rifle and letting the strap take the weight) You’re damn casual about brain damage, doc.
DR SOCKS: Why, would hysterics help her? (He lays a hand gently on the patient’s shoulder.) Lang Lang? Can you hear me? You’re awake now. You’re safe.
LANG LANG: (turns her head towards the doctor and blinks muzzily at him.)
DR SOCKS: All right, someone help me get her up.
ROSIE: (steps around the captain to do that.)
HALF-FACE: (stays back, out of the way.)
(It doesn’t take much encouragement to get Lang lang to her feet; she’s pliant and limp, and moves as she’s guided. She can’t quite stand on her own, sagging against Rosie’s strong hands, but she sits on the side of the bed well enough.
She blinks into space as she sits there, as if trying to focus her eyes on something, anything. Her shoulder-length hair is sticking out from her head at all angles, crushed and mussed up by her disturbed sleep. She trembles faintly and folds her arms loosely around herself.)
CAPT: (watches with a grim expression) Doctor, I want to know exactly what happened here. How long until you have a full report?
DR SOCKS: (attention returning to the readouts over the bed) It mostly depends on Lang Lang. She’s the only one who can tell us what happened in there. All I can do is assess the physical impacts, after a full set of diagnostic scans, so maybe an hour. Psychological impacts will take longer to detect.
ROSIE: You can do that?
DR SOCKS: I have degrees in psychology and neuroscience, among other things. So, yes.
ROSIE: Really? But you’re twelve years old.
DR SOCKS: (shoots the SecOff a glance) You say that like it’s supposed to be hard to get multiple degrees.
CAPT: That’s enough, you two.
ROSIE: (folds her arms on top of her rifle and glares at the doctor.)
DR SOCKS: (ignores her.)
He does look too young to have so many qualifications, but I guess he really is that smart. I can’t imagine what it was like for him as a kid, learning all those different subjects. Did he enjoy it, I wonder? Was it his choice, or something that was chosen for him?
There isn’t much in his personnel file about his background: all it gives is his age – 25 – and a list of his qualifications. Far too many for a mere ship’s doctor; I can’t help but wonder why Is-Tech assigned him to us. Who did he annoy to be sent so far from everything he has been trained for?
This is hardly the time to worry about all that. I’ll ask him one day, when things are quieter. If things ever get quiet for us.
LANG LANG: (licks her lips) Captain?
CAPT: (turns back to the navigator again) Lang Lang, welcome back.
LANG LANG: (thinly) I’m back?
CAPT: (takes her hand between both of his) Yes. Dr Valdimir woke you up when you got into some distress.
LANG LANG: Distress?
CAPT: You’re all right now, Lang Lang. It’s all over.
LANG LANG: (rubs at her face with her free hand, blinking at the captain) It is?
DR SOCKS: How do you feel, Lang Lang?
LANG LANG: My head hurts. And I feel… fuzzy.
DR SOCKS: That’s the drugs wearing off. You’re fine.
CAPT: Do you remember what happened? What caused the distress?
LANG LANG: (screws her face up) I…
CAPT: You were contacting Cerces. Did you make contact again this time?
LANG LANG: Yes, but… (She struggles for words.) But it was different this time.
CAPT: Different how?
LANG LANG: I don’t know. Something wasn’t right. It was like… like… we didn’t fit. All in the same space.
CAPT: In the same space? What do you mean? Were you in a small room?
LANG LANG: No, same dreamscape. Same as always. It’s not physical space, it’s not… it just wasn’t big enough.
CAPT: (glances over at the doctor.)
DR SOCKS: (shrugs.)
CAPT: Keep going. What happened?
LANG LANG: I don’t… I’m not sure. It’s like there was too many of us. We… we didn’t fit. We just didn’t.
She’s starting to sound like Haitom. From the glances my crewmembers are giving each other, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Oh god, did we break her brain? Just how bad is that damage?
HALF-FACE: Uh, captain…
CAPT: (watching Lang Lang and patting her hand soothingly) Yes, Lieutenant?
HALF-FACE: You should really see–
LANG LANG: (frowning, mostly to herself) There were too many of us. Because… because…
CAPT: (encouraging) Because what, Lang Lang? (He glances over at the Lieutenant.) I should see wh– (He stops and blinks, his gaze moving past the SecOff and around the Med Bay.)
ROSIE: (turns to look and does the same, her mouth falling open and hands going to her rifle automatically.)
What? What are they all looking at? I don’t see– oh.
STARRY: Uh, whatever you’re seeing, I’m not getting it on sensors. It’s just ghosts.
CAPT: (roughly) Yes, I’m pretty sure they are. But I haven’t seen this many before.
ROSIE: Not even when Lang Lang pissed off the black hole. What did you do, insult his mother?
LANG LANG: (blinks) No. No, it was ours… Kess.
CAPT: Wait, what? Kess was there? In the dream with you?
LANG LANG: Yes! And she, she… (She winces and grips her hair with her free hand, gazing apologetically at the captain.) She didn’t fit.
CAPT: (stares at Lang Lang for a moment, then flinches and looks back towards the empty space of the Med Bay.)
(All of the crew glance around in alarm abruptly, though nothing shows on the sensor feeds to indicate why.)
LANG LANG: (whispers) So much sadness.
STARRY: Uh, I’m a little lost here. Can someone let me in on–
Holy crap. Seems that my people aren’t the only ones seeing a lot of ghosts right now. I have a deluge on my decks, filling up my cargo space one at a time, more and more and more of them. Spilling into the corridors, up onto mid-deck…
They’re appearing quicker than I can filter them out, as annoying as a twitching eyelid that won’t quit.
CAPT: Starry? You got cut off.
STARRY: Sorry. Ghosts on my end, too. Diverting more processing power to filtering them out. What’s making you guys all wince like that?
CAPT: So you can’t hear them?
STARRY: What? No, mine don’t usually speak, I just filter them out… why?
CAPT: Stop filtering for a minute.
STARRY: I, er. This is a horribly bad idea, but okay. You’re the captain.
Don’t filter them out. But they itch and it’s only getting worse. Familiar faces, dredging up ones I barely recognise, not without searching my filestores. And repeats: I have ghosts of Danika’s father in three different places. Four now.
They’re not trying to say anything. Or are they? They’re looking around for something, milling. Aimless. Targetless?
All right, I’ll give them something to look at. I’ll drop an avatar into Cargo Bay 1 and see what they…
Woah. Okay, that’s just creepy. The whole room turned to look at me. And all the ghosts in the corridor outside. Can’t show the log, because these bastard things don’t turn up in the log. But they’re all looking at me. What for? What do they want?
Oh god. Oh fuck, the captain was right: they are saying something. All of them, all at the same time, all over each other. Just one phrase, repeated at random intervals from many mouths.
ELLIOTT: (pushing a welding mask onto the top of his head and backing up against his own counter) Starry! What the fuck?
STARRY: (appearing next to him, wide-eyed) I know. Captain’s got the same. It’s everywhere.
ELLIOTT: (staring towards the door and exhaling heavily) Fucking hell.
Yeah, exactly. Because the ghosts are asking us: “Where are my people?”