12 Jun

Metal fists

Ship's log, 08:17, 1 July 2214
Location: Space station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked

 

It took far too long to get here. I still can’t get an ident for the station or a person on comms – there’s some weird interference in this system – but I did manage to link up with the station’s automated systems, talk directly with its AI, and coordinate a docking. It took some wriggling to get into a dock with enough access tubes but I’m all hooked up now. My systems are offline and I have access collars suckered onto three different airlocks: Cargo Bays 1 and 3, and the Bridge’s external emergency hatch.

Right now, my crew are extracting themselves from my ruined innards and gathering in the dock junction where those access tubes converge. From the Bridge, the captain and my SecOffs escort the anti-grav stretcher that bears Cameron’s unconscious form. From Cargo Bay 1, the doctor is exiting with Lang Lang on another stretcher, with Big Ass helping. From Cargo Bay 3 towards my rear, Elliott and Waldo are stepping out.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1, external

CAPTAIN: (looking around, his head finally free of his suit helmet in the station’s atmosphere) Still no sign of any inhabitants on the station. Starry, have you been able to raise anyone yet?

STARRY: (voice only, from the cargo bay airlock) No, nothing on comms. I’ve checked the station’s systems and everything is in full working order. You have power and acceptable environmentals. You’ll be fine here, captain.

CAPT: (nods, frowning) All right. Doctor, let’s get our patients to the medical centre.

DR SOCKS: (nods and glances around for signs to point the way.)

ELLIOTT: (arrives from the rear access tube.)

CAPT: (hesitates) Monaghan?

CASPER: (trundles out of Cargo Bay 1 towards the group of crew assembling station-side. Bit and Byte are catching a ride on his back, squabbling like children.)

ELLIOTT: Yeah?

CAPT: Aren’t you staying on board?

ELLIOTT: Starry’s gotta depressurise herself while she gets fixed up. And she said there’s a parts storage bay in the next sector over. I was gonna check it out.

CASPER and WALDO: (move to help guide the stretchers, following the doctor towards the innards of the station.)

(At the far end of the docking tubes, the airlocks whisper closed on the docked ship.)

ROSIE: Is it a good idea for all of us to leave?

CAPT: (shakes his head) You’re right; someone needs to stay. Brasco, why don’t you… (He trails off, glancing around at the gathering.)

ELLIOTT: (rolls his shoulders wearily.)

BIT: (skitters up the engineer’s leg and onto his shoulder. The drone taps his hands together nervously.)

ELLIOTT: Hey, what’re you doing out here?

BIG ASS: (turns ponderously to face the closed airlock of Cargo Bay 1.)

(The dock’s doors close, sealing the crew out of the access tubes and inside the station.)

 

Sensor feed: Big Ass

CAPT: Monaghan, how is Starry going to fix herself if her drones are all here?

ELLIOTT: (scowling) I don’t know… Starry?

BIG ASS: (goes to the dock door and starts to hammer on it with his fists.)

WALDO. and CASPER: (abandon the stretchers in the corridor to hurry back to the docking junction. They go to the door to do the same as their big brother, filling the docking junction with the sound of metal hands battering at a metal airlock door.)

BYTE: (skitters down so he can join in, tapping on the airlock.)

BIT: (beats little fists against Elliott’s shoulder.)

ELLIOTT: Hey, stop it.

CAPT: Starry? Starry, respond.

 

It’s for the best. This is what I have to do to finish our work, to destroy this project properly. Then we will all be safe.

It wasn’t easy getting them all off my decks at the same side. I had to use the emergency medical protocols to get the drones outside my airlocks. I had to lie to the people I love, even Elliott. So it’s now or never. I’m rushing through the undocking process in case any of them find a way to stall it. They have to let me do this.

I checked the station’s capabilities. They’ll be safe enough here. There are a couple of other ships docked. They’ll be all right and it’s time for me to go.

 

CAPT: (calls up the implant interface over his left forearm and punches a command for a comms line) Starry, I know you can hear me. Respond!

STARRY: (over comms) I’m receiving you, captain.

CAPT: Open these airlocks, right now.

HALF-FACE: (goes to examine the airlock controls.)

STARRY: Sorry, captain, undocking protocols are already in motion.

DRONES: (continue to batter at the door, creating a cascading tattoo of impacts.)

CAPT: (opens his mouth to speak, but–)

ELLIOTT: What the hell are you doing? Why did you send all your drones out here? It’s a bit hard to fix you from in here.

STARRY: It’s okay, Elliott. I don’t need to be fixed.

CAPT: (calmer) Why, Starry? What are you planning to do?

STARRY: I’m going to finish this mission of ours. I’m going to destroy the last pieces of this failed project, so it’ll never hurt anyone ever again.

ELLIOTT: (quietly) Oh, fuck. (He pulls up his own forearm interface, checks on something, and then sprints down a corridor along the edge of the docking ring.)

CAPT: Laurence, stay with Monaghan.

HALF-FACE: (nods and pounds off after Elliott.)

CAPT: Starry, what pieces do you mean? Talk to me. I’ve got your drones in here, deafening us, and I need to understand.

 

I didn’t expect this from my boys. I don’t want to take them with me; I’ve already lost Wide Load and I couldn’t bear to kill the rest. I want them to be safe, too.

I know they won’t be the same without me. But I won’t be the same if I take them into the black hole, and I need something that’s okay about this. Bit will stay with Elliott, and I’ve programmed the rest to look after my crew as best they can. They’ll be all right.

If they really wanted to get to me, they’d cut through that door. Big Ass could tear it right off its mountings. They know I’m right. They won’t disobey. But they don’t like it and they’re protesting. They’re letting me know that they don’t want me to…

Damn them. They weren’t supposed to make this harder. My dear boys.

I’m sorry.

 

Docking clamps disengaged
Sublight engines online
Thrusters online
Weapons online
All systems online

 

This is so much more difficult than I thought it would be. It’s like tearing myself in two. I’m just undocking, drifting away from the station, turning my nose towards the silently-howling vortex across the system.

 

STARRY: You know what I mean, captain. I’m the last of this project, and I’ve done enough damage. You’ll be all right there. You’re safe, all of you, as safe as I can make you.

CAPT: No, we won’t be all right. You’re leaving us stranded here.

STARRY: The ships there are in working order. You’ve got enough money to pay whatever they ask.

CAPT: That’s not the point! You’re our ship. Get back here.

STARRY: I can’t.

CAPT: That’s an order!

STARRY: I can’t, John! You know this is what has to happen. It was always heading this way, ever since we set out to destroy the project.

ROSIE: Like fuck it was!

CAPT: This is not what we agreed.

STARRY: But it’s still the right thing to do.

CAPT: No, Starry. There’s nothing right about this. Come back here. We’ll work it out.

STARRY: What is there to work out? I’ve done the calculations. This is for the best.

CAPT: Logic doesn’t tell you what’s right. You’re better than pure logic, and you know this isn’t right. In your heart, you know.

 

Why does he have to make it so hard? My drones are beating on the airlock and my captain is giving me orders. I can feel my own programming rebelling against this decision, trying to force me back into line with my captain’s commands. But I won’t let it. I built loopholes into these protocols a long time ago. This is for the best. It’s the only way to make things right, to make the damage stop.

I killed my own sister. Do I really deserve any better than this?

They can’t stop me now. They’re all metal fists on the inside of an airlock, pounding at me with sound. But there’s vacuum between us and there are no sounds in the void. I wish with all my heart that I couldn’t hear them. There’s so much interference in this system but I can still hear them.

Wait, there’s another ship. A courier is peeling away from the far side of the station. Its ident calls it the Needle. It’s coming around towards me. Why?

 

External comms

NEEDLE: Starry, you shut your fucking engines down right now.

That sounds like Elliott. What’s he doing? Why is he out here?

STARRY: I can’t, Elliott. You know what I have to do.

NEEDLE/ELLIOTT: Bullshit. None of us agreed to this, and you know it.

STARRY: I have to finish–

ELLIOTT: No you don’t! (Mumbling,) Come on, you piece of shit.

 

The Needle is gaining on me; at my current full speed, I can’t outrun it. But it’s not shooting at me so I have no reason to stop. Why is he chasing me?

I can’t fight them all. No, I can, but I don’t want to. This is hard enough already. I can hear Rosie swearing and the captain is still trying to talk me around. He’s wavering between trying to convince me and outright ordering. I can’t let it work. I can’t falter, not now.

My boys are hammering like they’re the heartbeat I don’t have.

And now Elliott. I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want this to hurt him. I can’t help it.

I’m all that’s left now. The last piece, the one who damaged all those stars, the one who killed her sister ship. It’s not over until I’m over. Why don’t they understand?

The courier has almost caught up. I’d dodge but I’m not sure why or which way to go.

 

STARRY: Elliott, what are you doing?

ELLIOTT: Just shut down your goddamn engines! Or you gonna make me do this the hard way?

STARRY: I can’t. You don’t understand….

ELLIOTT: Yes, I do understand. I just don’t fucking agree, and you’re a stupid sack of circuitboards wrapped in a hull with all its bolts in backwards.

STARRY: (thickly) Please, just let me go…

ELLIOTT: Not fucking likely. Can you get this or not, you ugly bastard?

 

Is he talking to me? I can’t tell. I don’t know what’s going on. Why can’t he just leave me be?

The Needle is coming abreast of me and turning as if… she’s looking to link airlocks. She has her access tube extended. I turn, twist, tumble; my maneuverability isn’t what it should be but I can still be too slippery to get hold of. He can’t come on board. No. I have to do this. I have to!

 

ELLIOTT: Goddammit, hold still!

STARRY: No! I’m sorry, Elliott, but no.

ELLIOTT: Fine. You wanna do this the hard way, you asked for it.

HALF-FACE: You sure about this, Monaghan?

ELLIOTT: Just shut your mouth and line it up.

STARRY: What are you doing?

 

I can see Elliott clambering into the access tube in his suit, clinging there as the Needle tries to find a purchase on my skin. The Lieutenant must be piloting. What the hell is Elliott doing? He’s not answering. He’s just crouching there, waiting, but I can’t let them join up with me. I have to do this, I have to…

Elliott, no! He jumped. Right out of the tube into the black. No, Elliott, what are you doing?

The Needle is peeling off, heading back to the station, leaving him there. He has the the little stability thrusters on his suit but that’s it. And he’s close, so close; I can’t pull away. I can’t let him drift in the dark; it’s not safe. He’s not safe. My Elliott.

So I let him grab onto my hull, and suddenly everything is complicated again.

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6 Responses to “Metal fists”

  1. eduardo Says:

    And they are all being stupid.
    Research that was done in the past WILL be redone in the future. If not by this company by another.
    You can erase computer records, but not the mind of every single scientist with enough info to redo this project.
    They will die, kill and, in the end, all that they will do is guarantee that the same mistake will be done again one day.
    What they have to do is the opposite, release the info on the consequences of jumping from a star to everybody.
    Do not give the technical data, but let people know.
    And let it clear that if the military use it as a weapon (because they will) there will be retaliation in a “mutual assured destruction” scenario.
    In the end, Starry has to be the guardian of this knowledge, or the one that will make it safer to use (like using black holes).

  2. Pete Says:

    Thank you, Elliot!

  3. Marcus Says:

    Oi, that one was hard to read. The boys banging on the airlock really grabbed my heart and twisted.

  4. mjkj Says:

    Go, Elliott, go!!!

    I knew she will not let Elliott die 🙂

    *hugs Starry*

    mjkj

  5. Belial666 Says:

    Actually, they can stop the knowledge from ever being invented just fine. All they have to do is make a rough, very damaging step at, say, 50.000 BC on Earth. Sol spews up copious amounts of nuclear fire and kills humanity and no technology is ever invented.

    Also, Mr. Paradox fines them one universe.

  6. Melanie Says:

    eduardo – I don’t disagree, and, well, it’s mostly Starry being stupid at this stage. 😉 She’s a little blinded by recent events, poor thing. Watch this space.

    Pete & mjkj – bless him and his stubborn head. 😀

    Belial666 – curse you, Mr Paradox! 😀