31 Oct

Mouth of the cave

Ship's log, 14:32, 13 July 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked and powered down

 

Repairs are coming along more quickly now that my hull is intact. The heaviest lifting is out of the way and the more that’s fixed, the more I can help with what’s left.

Elliott has been working on my core resources, replacing blown circuits, reinstating connections, putting in fresh cables and crystalline matrices, and welding the fabric of my brain back together. I’m up to 63% capacity now and climbing. I feel better with each percentile increase.

I never really knew how stupid I was until I started to get my full capabilities back. There’s still a lot of work to do on my systems but I can think better now. Clearer, faster.

It’s great that I’m getting back on my mental feet, but the more stable I get, the more strained my crew seem to be. I know I’m not causing it but it’s hard to enjoy my returning capabilities when the ghosts are taking their toll. My people are more grim than they used to be. More paranoid.

I’m helping them where I can. My increase resources mean that I can wrangle the station’s systems more effectively. I cloned my securi-pup program and sent the copies to sniff out the life signs, trying to link them to sensor contacts. Rosie has been swearing about not being sent after another cat.

I’m painfully aware of how limited the station’s sensor network is; unlike mine, it doesn’t see into all of its corners, and its definition of ‘maintenance areas’ is much broader than mine. I don’t look inside my own ducts and pipes, but there are whole access corridors and crawlspaces that the station ignores. It doesn’t make my job any easier..

As it happens, I have located another cat. Two decks down from the arboretum where the mother and kittens were holed up, a sensor caught the tip of a furry tail. I guess that’s probably the kittens’ father. I’ll know more if he comes out into sensor range properly.

So that’s six life signs down: two adult cats, three kittens, and one small child. Six more to locate. And I got a hit on one of the larger life signals just half an hour ago.

 

Station sensor log, recording: 13:58, 13 July 2014
Location: Parabolic engine sector, access corridor B3

(The sensor shows a corridor leading away from the engine core. A wire-thin man hurries along the corridor, his shoulders hunched as if he’s laughing at something. The sensor shows the back of his head and his face is obscured by a mop of overgrown mouse-coloured hair. He’s wearing a pair of faded overalls, splattered with colour as if he got in the way of fighting rainbows.

The view switches to a sensor further down the corridor and gives a glimpse of a craggy face and a lopsided grin. The man turns right abruptly to duck through a doorway.)

Location: storage room 24C

(The room is full of crates. Towards the back, they are neatly stacked, but the closer to the door they get, the more ragged their arrangement. The man flips the nearest crate to him open and starts to hunt through it. From the debris around his feet, this isn’t the first time.)

After comparing his facial structure to the station’s records, I think this is the Acting Commander, Marlo Iggulden. Rosie and the Lieutenant are on their way down there right now; another few minutes and they’ll be on him. The captain is eager to talk to this man. He even called the doctor in to keep an eye on little Sara, much to Dr Valdimir’s disgruntlement.

 

Station comms
Station location: Engineering level B

ROSIE: (gesturing down a side corridor) What about them?

STARRY: Ghosts. Keep going.

HALF-FACE: (nodding) Is he still there?

STARRY: Yup. Although…

 

Oh. Wow, I was wondering what he was doing, and now I’m sorry I tried to figure it out.

He stopped looking through the crates about ten minutes ago and started wandering around the room, gesturing and talking to someone. To a ghost. Then he went quiet and started making the strangest face. Now he’s… he’s got a hand braced against the wall and his pants are unfastened and he’s… Oh, that’s just wrong.

 

ROSIE: (huffing) Although what?

STARRY: Uh, you might want to give him a minute.

ROSIE: Why?

STARRY: He’s, um. Busy doing something… private.

ROSIE: Like what?

STARRY: It’s hard to verify, but I think he’s having sex.

ROSIE: What do you mean, hard to verify? What’s complicated about whether or not he’s screwing someone?

STARRY: Well, I can’t see whoever, or whatever, he’s doing it with.

ROSIE: (eyes widening) Oh. Gross.

HALF-FACE: (smiles to himself) Maybe you should just let us know when he’s done.

STARRY: I really don’t want to have to watch him that closely. Do you know how hard it is to delete logs once they’re recorded?

 

My SecOffs are slowing down, taking their time as they approach the sector where the storage room is. They don’t want to see this guy screwing any more than I do. It’s hard not to look, but every time I do, the stomach I don’t have flops over. Rosie’s right: gross.

Hey what was that– oh, I need to stop analysing this stuff.

 

STARRY: Uh, you’re clear to go now. He’s… done. Putting his pants back on. You’re… just go, would you?

ROSIE: That was fast.

HALF-FACE: (shakes his head at her.)

 

They’re half a corridor away now. Just one more turn and they’re there. Meanwhile, Iggulden is back to pawing through the crates. Mostly clothing and shoes, from what I can tell. He’s pulling a cap on his head, squishing his hair down. It looks ridiculous, but oddly, entirely fitting on him.

 

Station sensors: live feed
Station location: storage room 24C

IGGULDEN: (pulls his hair out of his face and jams the cap tighter on his head, then turns back to the crate beside him.)

ROSIE and HALF-FACE: (weapons out, they slip into the room cautiously, scanning for trouble.)

IGGULDEN: (jumps at the movement and spins to face the new arrivals. He sticks his arm out at them, fist-first, and a display springs up above his wrist, scanning them.)

ROSIE and HALF-FACE: (snaps their weapons up to point at Iggulden, reacting to his aggressive pose.)

IGGULDEN: (squints at them through the filter of his wrist-display, but no actual weapon seems evident. He mutters,) Real. Apparently real. But not Sarabande. Curious, very curious. (Louder,) Interlopers?

HALF-FACE: (frowns, the plasti-skin pulling over his metal brow.)

ROSIE: Visitors. We’re looking for the acting commander of the station. You him?

IGGULDEN: (lowering his arm and lifting his chin) I am he. (He waves fingers at their weapons.) You can put those down. Nothing interesting here. (He gestures to his left.) This is Grilya.

ROSIE: (lowers her weapon’s aim an inch and scowls at the air beside Iggulden) Starry?

STARRY: Ghost.

ROSIE: The one he was…?

STARRY: How the hell would I know?

ROSIE: (shakes her head and returns her attention to the acting commander) We’re only interested in you.

HALF-FACE: (weapon now pointing at the floor) Our captain would like to talk to you about what’s going on here.

IGGULDEN: (loops an arm around the air beside him) Ah, of course, of course. You want to know all the station’s secrets. They whisper to you too, hmm? And you’ve got a device like mine. (He waggles his free arm, indicating the wrist device he used to scan the SecOffs.) Can tell the dreams from the real ones.

ROSIE: (scowls at him) And yet, you’re trying to lean on one.

IGGULDEN: (grins at her, showing grimy teeth) They have their uses. Don’t you, darling?

 

I can’t figure out if it’s better or worse that he can tell the ghosts from the real people, that he knows he’s leaning on someone who’s not really there. I suppose, in the end, he’s not hurting anyone. But it’s still kinda unsettling. People are so weird.

 

HALF-FACE: (before Rosie can speak) So, you’ll come with us to talk to our captain?

IGGULDEN: (narrows his eyes at the two before him) Not sure. Why doesn’t he come down here?

HALF-FACE: We’re verifying that it’s safe.

IGGULDEN: Oh, safe, safe. Nothing dangerous down here. Long as you know real from dream. (He winks at them.) Come on, I’ll show you my cave. All the best stuff’s down here. (He heads out of the room, beckoning. One hand is leading an invisible partner.) Come, come.

ROSIE: (exchanges a frown with the Lieutenant.)

HALF-FACE: (presses his lips together grimly and shrugs) Starry?

STARRY: I’m relaying the feed to the captain. He’s going to come down to you, as soon as you verify there’s nothing else going on down there.

HALF-FACE: Closest life signs?

STARRY: Nothing on that deck. Just the three of you.

ROSIE and HALF-FACE: (leave the room, unhurried this time.)

Location: Parabolic engine sector, access corridor B3

IGGULDEN: (waiting for them in the corridor. He’s fiddling with nothing, and stops doing whatever it is when he spots the SecOffs.) Come, come. (He turns to head down the corridor, underneath the range of the sensor.)

ROSIE and HALF-FACE: (move to follow him warily.)

STARRY: Wait!

ROSIE and HALF-FACE: (pause.)

ROSIE: What is it?

STARRY: He has left sensor range. Wherever he’s going, I don’t have sensor coverage in there.

HALF-FACE: Must be why it took so long to find him.

ROSIE: That’s a whole compartment. There aren’t any sensors at all?

STARRY: Not on the station’s network.

IGGULDEN: (from outside visual sensor range) Come on, what’s the matter? It’s through here.

STARRY: I can’t even turn that last sensor around to look where he’s gone. I can’t monitor you guys in there. You need to stay out.

IGGULDEN: (the top of his head reappears at the bottom of the sensor’s range) I thought you wanted to talk?

ROSIE: We do. Just not in there.

IGGULDEN: This something to do with that device of yours?

ROSIE: What device?

IGGULDEN: The one that tells you dream from real.

ROSIE: That’s our ship.

IGGULDEN: (head bobbing around as he paces) Ship? Ship. Must be patched into the station. Sensors just ruin the fun. Well, my cave is in here.

HALF-FACE: We just want to talk about what happened here.

IGGULDEN: Which part, hmm? The dreams or the dreamers?

HALF-FACE: The dream-master.

IGGULDEN: (laughing) Interesting! Well, if you want to know, you’ll have to come inside. (His head disappears from the visual sensor again.)

ROSIE: (takes a step forwards) Wait!

IGGULDEN: (distantly, still laughing) Door’s open! Come on in!

STARRY: You can’t go in there!

HALF-FACE: What are the captain’s orders?

STARRY: He’s on his way down to you now. He wants you to wait.

 

I don’t like this. The captain knows the situation – I’ve been piping it to him, even while he has been on the move – and he’s still heading down there. He has a determined look on his face that I haven’t really seen before. He means to do something.

He means to go in there, I just know it. I can’t monitor them in there. I couldn’t help them anyway, not in any direct, physical way, but I can’t tell them what’s real and what’s ghost, either. I can’t even be sure that the comms will work in there; we tried paging Iggulden when we arrived and he never answered.

He could have anything rigged up in there. He could have weapons, or traps, or offensive drones. He could have poisoned food or pheromone snares. He didn’t seem malicious, but he also seemed a little crazy, so what does all that mean? We don’t know how he has survived all this time. The things he’s had to do, or what might have given way in his head.

I have to find a way to help my crew. I can’t let them go in there on their own.

 

Location: Visitor's lounge

STARRY: Excuse me, doctor?

DR SOCKS: (sitting at a table, he’s frowning at the young Sara) I told you not to touch that. What is it, Starry?

SARA: (stares up at the doctor. She has her stuffed whale gripped in one hand and a small device in the other. Her eyes are big and shining.)

STARRY: I, uh. Are you trying to make her cry?

DR SOCKS: She stole my scanner. (He holds a hand out towards the girl, palm-up, and speaks firmly.) Now, give it back, please.

SARA: (lifts the hand holding the scanner, but she doesn’t move towards the doctor, so she can’t reach his hand. Her lips tremble.)

DR SOCKS: (huffs.)

STARRY: (before he can speak to the child again) You’re scaring her. She’s doing as you’re asking. Can’t you be a little bit nice to her?

DR SOCKS: (shakes his head with exasperation, but he gets down off his chair and rests on one knee in front of the girl. He takes the device from her little hand carefully.) Do. Not. Touch. Do you understand?

SARA: (nods and her face starts to crumple up.)

STARRY: Doctor!

DR SOCKS: (sighs) All right, all right. (He stops frowning at the girl and makes an effort to remove the edge from his words.) Thank you for giving it back. Just don’t do it again, all right?

SARA: (sniffs and nods, hugging her whale to her chest.)

DR SOCKS: Off you go, then.

SARA: (runs off across the room.)

STARRY: Your beside manner sucks.

DR SOCKS: Was there something you wanted?

STARRY: Yes. I need you to do a psychological evaluation of this fella the captain has gone to talk to.

DR SOCKS: (sits back at the table again and sets the scanner down) All right, show me what you have on him.

 

If I can’t see in there, maybe we can work out how much of a danger this guy really is.

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4 Responses to “Mouth of the cave”

  1. MarSig Says:

    Curiouser and curiouser

  2. Venix Says:

    Well that was a little gross. I Wonder what he has in this “cave” of his.

  3. mjkj Says:

    Hmm, strange, did he disable all monitoring devices?

    I wonder what he is hiding in his cave.

    …poor Sara *hugs her and Starry*

  4. thomas Says:

    My first thought was why Starry could not use sensors on one of her bots. Bit or Byte could sit on someone’s shoulder so she could see inside this area but I suspect the Captain might not be willing to wait. Just a little bit of backup would be good though.
    On the other hand, maybe this ‘cave’ is another of her ghost manifestations. Naw, Melanie wouldn’t through us a new curve ball like that. Would she?