24 Dec

No cake left

Ship's log, 16:14, 4 October 2214
Location: Standard orbit distance from the Cerces black hole horizon
Status: Orbiting

 

Cerces wants an avatar. He wants to come with us. The captain is definitely going to kill me.

I should get Sara to wake him up. The captain needs to know about this. But what does it even mean, an avatar? What kind of avatar? How does a star go about getting an avatar, anyway? It was different for me; I just used the projection equipment I already had and the image of someone I kind-of used to be. But this is a star we’re talking about – that I’m talking to – and more than that, a black hole. By definition, he can’t project anything; physics won’t allow it.

Although he manages to project his ‘thoughts’, enough to contact and communicate with us. Through us. Does thought transcend physics? Is it the soul?

Yeah, that’s a rabbithole that I don’t dare let my logic processors disappear down into right now. Focus on the avatar, silly ship. There are so many questions and transcendentals really aren’t important right now.

Lots of more important questions. Like: what image would he use, what form would he shape himself into? If I stop the conversation now, we’ll only need to do this weird brain-sharing thing again to work out what it all means. My people don’t need that; they need to have this damned black hole out of their heads, for good.

 

Location: Bridge

STARRY: (crouching near Sara, smiling gently) He wants an avatar, huh? A body?

SARA: (hugging her whale toy cheerfully) Uh-huh.

STARRY: (pointing at the stuffed whale) What sort of body? Would he use this one here?

SARA: (laughing and shaking her head) Issa toy, silly.

CERCES: (voice only) Need flesh. A body. A mind.

 

That is damned creepy. Even though I’m the one stitching it together from the fragmented voices of my people, each word spoken in a different part of me, and imagining it said in a single, voluminous voice, it’s still creepy. I’m not sure if I’m making it better or worse.

Especially when he talks about needing flesh.

 

STARRY: So he needs a real body, huh. Like a real whale? (She points at the stuffed toy.) Swimming in water?

 

I really hope he doesn’t need one of those. I’m not equipped to carry that sort of creature. I mean, I might be able to flood one of my cargo bays, but it would take more water than I’m currently carrying, and put some very strange stresses on my frame. I’d have to rebalance my inertial dampeners, and be very careful about FTL jumps and sharp turns…

 

SARA: (shakes her head.)

CERCES: No whale available.

 

Still creepy. It’s worse when he’s being cryptic.

Actually, now that my logic processors have had a pico-second to pick at those three words, I think I might know what he means. And that’s worse.

 

STARRY: Uh… why would he need one to be ‘available’? Isn’t he making it himself?

SARA: (shrugs and tosses the toy up into the air. She laughs when she misses it and has to scramble to retrieve it.)

CERCES: Cannot emit matter. Cannot create. Require donation.

 

Donation. Of a body. I- uh- no. No.

 

STARRY: (keeping her tone light, the smile becoming fixed in her expression) A donation? Of a body – is that what he means, Sara?

SARA: (reclaims her toy and hugs it to her chest, nodding cheerfully) Present!

STARRY: He wants one of my people?

CERCES: A conditioned mind can provide a form.

SARA: (plonks herself down on the floor and nods eagerly) Hug whale!

 

Conditioned mind. There’s no way that’s a good thing. Right?

 

STARRY: (to the child) Yes, you’ll be able to hug your whale. Won’t that be great?

SARA: Yup!

STARRY: But I’m not sure what he means. Can you ask him to tell me what it means, Sara?

CERCES: A clean mind. Fresh. Young.

STARRY: You cannot have Sara!

SARA: (looks up at the ship’s avatar, puzzled.)

 

No. No way. She’s just a child! She needs to grow up, and figure out who she is, and fall in love, and break her heart, and love again because that’s what we do. He can’t ask this of her. He can’t!

 

STARRY: You want to meet your whale, right Sara? You want to hug him. He can’t have you and do that.

SARA: (nods happily.)

CERCES: She would be lost. Unable to play any more.

STARRY: So there must be other options.

CERCES: There are other clean minds.

STARRY: (lifts her attention away from the child and looks around the Bridge. Her people are scattered around the room: sitting, lying down, standing. Unmoving.)

 

They are all vacant right now, plugged into the black hole. Like he has sucked them out from the inside, making them as empty as he is. Like they’re already gone.

Other clean minds. Other conditioned ones. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but if Sara was a candidate, then perhaps he means the others that he has the deepest connection with. I know who they are: Lang Lang, the Chief, our crazy Haitom, and the Strider’s SecOff, Kinski.

What the hell am I doing? Automatically creating a list of candidates, lining them up as if this is a choice we should make.

Whoever he takes won’t be able to play any more. They would be lost. Gone. The consciousness of a star packed into a human brain.

Lost. One of my people. He wants me to lose another one.

 

STARRY: (blinks rapidly, as if her eyes prickle, and looks down at the child again) No. He can’t have one.

SARA: (gazes up at the avatar, her smile fading.)

CERCES: Need—

STARRY: I said no! You’re asking us to give up the life of one of our own for you, and the answer is no. Why should I lose one of my people so you can look for yours? You grieve, you know we do too, so how could you do that to us? How can you even ask that?

SARA: (lip wobbles as she stares at Starry, her eyes shining with gathering tears.)

STARRY: It’s selfish is what it is. Oh, you’re some great big whale of a star, and we’re just little people. Just because our lives are shorter, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the chance to live them. My people mean everything to me, and you can’t have one of them.

SARA: (a tear tracks down her cheeks and she makes a little whimpering noise.)

STARRY: (blinks and stares at the child) …shit.

 

I am the worst ship ever.

I forgot. I forgot that, to talk to him, I had to talk to her. I was shouting at a small child. It’s not her fault. She doesn’t even fully understand what’s going on. She’s just talking to her friend for us, and I let my emotions get the better of me, and she bore the brunt of it.

I’m terrible at this. The captain would never have let this happen. Why did he have to get caught up in it all? Why is he standing there, empty and slack-jawed, when I need him?

I have to make this better. Little Sara is crying. What if I make Cerces angry? What if I make him lash out? My people, their minds… I have to fix this.

 

STARRY: (crouching down next to Sara) I’m so sorry, little one. I didn’t mean to yell at you. I’m sorry, shh, it’s all right.

SARA: (sobbing) Wha-a-ale.

STARRY: I know. We’ll work something out. I promise. Just not what he’s asking.

SARA: (sobs.)

CERCES: Avatar.

STARRY: We need to work something else out.

CERCES: Need body. Mind.

 

I don’t have an answer! He can’t have mine. My people need me and I’m… I’m not ready to go yet.

That feels new. I’d give my life up for my people, I would, but I don’t want to die. I’m not done. Like little Sara, there’s so much more for me to do. I don’t truly know what I am, but I live, and I love, and I like being me.

I’m a good ship.

I don’t have time to dwell on this. I have to stop this before Cerces does something we’ll all regret. Before I have really and truly messed this up. Or my status as a good ship will be the shortest-lived thing on board.

But how do I calm down an upset child? I can’t hold her, or pat her knee, or stroke her hair. My holograms can be tactile but I’m not truly solid. I’m no good at this. I wasn’t built to be a nanny ship.

 

STARRY: Sara, you need to calm down, honey. Can you tell Cerces to let my people go now? We’re done talking.

SARA: (buries her face in her stuffed toy.)

 

Keep it light, stupid ship. She’s just a child. I’m not good at lying, though.

 

STARRY: Sara, please? I need my captain back to make this better. Cerces needs to stop talking through them.

SARA: (muffled by the toy) No more whale talk?

STARRY: Maybe later. That’s enough for now.

SARA: Wha-a-ale.

STARRY: He’s not going anywhere. It’ll be fine, little one.

SARA: (whimpers and hugs her toy into her face.)

 

Dammit. I need my captain back in order to get my captain back. Why do I keep encountering these spiralling paradoxes?

 

CERCES: Avatar journey to find people. People are precious.

 

What the hell is he on about now?

 

STARRY: (frowning) Yes, they are.

CREW ON BRIDGE: (bow their heads.)

SARA: (sniffles.)

 

I don’t like this. What is he doing? Wait– they’re falling. Those who are standing are starting to fall down…

 

Artificial gravity disabled

 

(Three people on the Bridge are on their feet: the captain, Rosie, and the Lieutenant. Their knees have gone soft as they started their collapse to the floor, but the sudden shut-off of the gravity stops the acceleration. Inertia drifts them downwards until the gentle impact with the floor bounces them upwards again.)

 

Great. I’ll need to get my boys in here to steady them.

On the plus side, their vital signs show signs of waking up. They’re coming around. Which means that Cerces has left the building.

Good riddance. We might still need to figure out how we’re going to leave the system in one piece, but hopefully he knows now that the price won’t be one of my people.

We’re just going to have to find another way.

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12 Responses to “No cake left”

  1. Melanie Says:

    Thanks for your patience, everyone. Here we are, back again! I have tidied up the posts and back-tracked a little, so check the last post in this chapter if you’re not sure where we’re picking up the story (Cake).

    I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, whatever holiday you enjoy. Thank you for being awesome.

    <3

  2. Melanie Says:

    Also, I’m aware that the site has some errors on it at the moment. I haven’t had a chance to tackle them yet. From what I can tell, they seem mostly annoying and won’t prevent you from actually doing or seeing something, but if you find something gets in your way, let me know and I’ll jump on it.

    My plan is still to move the hosting of this site to a new server, so I’m saving big problem-solving efforts for that. 🙂

  3. Targetdrone Says:

    Merry Christmas to you too, and thank you for that update!

  4. Francisco Says:

    Happy Christmas!

    I wonder if they are going to find an alternative solution.

  5. Osolodo Says:

    Merry
    If I was better at fan art I would be drawing Starry putting up holographic decorations.

    I hope you’re more satisfied with the direction you take the story than you were with the last one.

    But be sure to enjoy the holiday no matter what.

  6. Osolodo Says:

    Apparently I used the wrong brackets.
    Merry (holiday of your choice)

  7. Rhel Says:

    Is it not feasible to use one of the bodies in suspended animation? If the doc can patch stuff up, the brains would be empty.

  8. Syphax Says:

    Yes! More Starwalker. I may have to reread the last couple chapters before this in the timeline though. Oh darn. I have to read more.

    Rhel: I think at this point the dead folk have been shot into the black hole, not sure though, I haven’t reread yet.

  9. Mike Says:

    Happy Holidays and welcome back Starry!

  10. thomas Says:

    Happy belated Christmas Melanie,

    Thanks for ‘No Cake Left’. Definitely nice to see Starry showing some backbone in the negotiations with Cerces. Cute Elvis quote too. :3 it looks like she is trying to be more protective of her crew now and that is great.

  11. Kim Says:

    Is it possible for you to put the alt-timeline someplace on the site? as a “bonus” or “might have been”?

  12. Melanie Says:

    Targetdrone – thank you! And you’re welcome. 🙂 Glad to be back.

    Francisco – ahahaha, watch this space.

    Osolodo – I would love that picture! So cute. ‘Starry does Christmas’ (and probably gets half of it wrong)
    I am happier with the new direction. You’ll see it turning more obviously soon.

    Rhel – Syphax is right; the crew who were in cryo have been munched by the black hole already. Those on the station were those that Cerces didn’t bring back, so probably aren’t suitable either.

    Syphax – oh no, more reading. Whatever will you do?! I’m sorry? 😀

    Mike – thank you!

    thomas – so glad you liked it. I do love it when Starry gets stuck in, and this is a bit of a new slant for her.

    Kim – I’ll look into doing that, sure. 🙂