06 Aug

Perspicacity

Ship's log, 09:00, 4 October 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked, powered down

 

Undocking sequence started
Umbilicals disconnecting

 

It’s finally time. The station has been stripped of everything of use we could fit into my cargo bays. Every life signal has been herded or dragged on board me (except one). I have returned Sarabande’s controls to the station AI and patched up the places I broke in.

This time, after this undocking, I don’t mean to return for some time.

 

Umbilicals disconnected
Docking clamps releasing

 

It’s just me, my own systems, inside my own hull. My crew on my Bridge, and in Engineering, and down in the Med Bay. Exactly where they should be. As we all should be.

 

Docking clamps retracting
Thrusters online
Sublight engines online
FTL drive online
Weapons systems online

 

I am a ship again. I flutter my thrusters to push away from the station, lean heavier on one side to roll gracefully out into the black, while the docking ring turns emptily behind me. My wings unfold; they might be stubby, but to me they feel like flaring feathers a kilometre long, stretching out to touch every gleam of passing starlight.

No-one feels the kick of my sublights except me. I grin secretly, feeling the smooth power after all Elliott’s recent repairs. I am a gold streak across the vacuum, gathering speed.

I’m not going to fetch something this time. I’m not dragging a hearse behind me. I’m breaking free, flying off towards a new destination, and leaving this haunted system behind me.

Our victory is not complete. We didn’t manage to rescue everyone. We tried but it just wasn’t to be.

My captain tried. He took our two fully-functional SecOffs and went to fetch Marlo Iggulden, the station’s Acting Commander. But Iggulden had other ideas.

I didn’t have good coverage down there; Iggulden has disabled most of the sensors in and around his cave. I know that he shot at my people, though. I know that Rosie returned with a hole in her shoulder, cursing lividly as she stomped back to my airlock. And I know that Iggulden disappeared down into the bowels of the station, dove so deep that the captain called off any attempt to retrieve him.

Iggulden made his choice. He refused our offer and, while we disagree with his wisdom, we should respect it. Especially when he seems ready to defend his decision with lethal force. Our desire to help him doesn’t mean we’re willing to put ourselves in that kind of danger.

I’m honestly not sure if I’d let him on board now that he has shot Rosie. I’ve had enough people hell-bent on hurting my people walking my decks already; I don’t want another one. It’s bad enough that we’ve had to quarantine the Strider’s crew.

I wonder if we can keep calling them that, now that she’s gone. Now that she’s compacted down to a diamond, to atoms, to a tiny point of intense pressure and matter at the heart of the black hole. But what else do we call them? What are they, now? Passengers?

It’s hard not to be a little sad, knowing what we’re leaving behind. A man alone on a station, too attached to his ghosts to want any other life. My sister ship, given up to oblivion with my dead crew-members for company.

A system full of ghosts: that’s what we’re leaving behind. With a grieving black hole at the centre of it, mourning his lost people.

I wonder if any of the species that lived here survived. I wonder if we might find them one day and tell them about the sun that doesn’t shine any more but still remembers what it used to shine on…

 

Location: Bridge

CAPTAIN: (watching the hologram in the centre of the room, the fingers of his right hand tapping on the arm of his chair. The hologram shows the station with its slowly turning rings and a small representation of the Starwalker curving away from it.) Starry, report.

STARRY: (voice only) All systems green, captain. We’re off and flying. Setting course for the FTL corridor.

CAPT: Any news about our passengers?

STARRY: Not a peep from any of them. I’m letting them know that we’ve undocked and are under way, but there’s nothing of note to report back.

CAPT: Well then. I suppose we should settle in for a long trip. How long until we reach the FTL corridor?

STARRY: At this rate of acceleration, three hours and fifty-seven minutes.

CAPT: Is that all?

STARRY: I guess the black hole meant the system was clean enough to bring the corridor in nice and close.

LANG LANG: (from her station, where she’s scanning the system intently) Starry’s correct. There’s no debris in this system at all. We could probably jump from here. (She glances up at the captain.) But we shouldn’t.

CAPT: (smiling) No, we shouldn’t. Thank you, Navigator Cartier.

 

Location: Engineering

(Elliott is standing by a counter, squinting at the projection of a crystalline circuit board hovering above the panel his hands are working on. The view is zoomed in a thousand-fold to show the tiny, precise points he’s touching with a glowing wand. He makes a minute motion and huffs.)

ELLIOTT: (not looking up) Starry?

STARRY: We’re under way now, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: What? Oh, I wasn’t looking for an update. Where the hell is your Big Ass?

STARRY: I assume you’re asking about my drone, because my tail is right where you left it.

ELLIOTT: (blinks, lifting his hands away from the circuit board for a moment) Oh. Yeah, him. (He glances around, a smile tugging.)

STARRY: (appears next to him) Big Ass is right behind you.

ELLIOTT: Very funny— (He twists to look behind him.) Oh. He actually is. (To the drone,) Where the hell have you been?

STARRY: No-

BIG ASS: (points at the far corner of the room, where a unit sits covered by a blanket.)

ELLIOTT: (follows the gesture and frowns) What the hell is that?

STARRY: (to the drone) Not yet! I was gonna do this later.

BIG ASS: (turns his head to the avatar and spreads his hands.)

STARRY: (sighs and points to the panel Elliott was working on) Help him with that.

ELLIOTT: Oh, yeah. I need this flipped over. (He places the fibre wand he was working with down on the counter carelessly, distracted by the thing in the corner.) So, what is it?

STARRY: A… surprise. (She steps in between Elliott and the object of his interest.) It’s not ready yet.

ELLIOTT: (grins at her) You got me a present?

STARRY: …Yes.

ELLIOTT: It’s not my birthday.

STARRY: I missed your birthday. And I figured you’d like it, so…

ELLIOTT: (stepping around her) So what is it?

STARRY: It’s– (She sighs, giving up.) Fine, fine. Take a look.

ELLIOTT: (grins and reaches for the cover, but Casper is there, holding up a hand indicating that he should pause. The engineer halts, blinking.)

CASPER: (grasps the cover, then whisks it off the unit with just a touch of flourish.)

(The revealed unit is a waist-height machine, silent and stained with disuse. It’s a tubby thing sitting on small metal feet, with an input chute on one side and panels that most likely light up with readouts and information on the other sides.)

ELLIOTT: That’s… is that a weaver? Where the hell did you get a weaver?

STARRY: I found it in a storage room on the station. Now, I don’t know if it works. Initial scans come back clean, but I won’t know for sure until I hook it up and run proper diagnostics.

ELLIOTT: (grins at her) You got me a weaver?

STARRY: (uncertainly) Well, you keep complaining about how you can’t make enough parts yourself. A weaver isn’t a great solution, but this model handles optics and plastics as well as metal, so I figured that, in a pinch, it might—

ELLIOTT: (leaning over to peer into the input chute) Are you kidding? This is perfect! I’ve always wanted to take one of these apart.

STARRY: I… yeah, I thought you might… like it.

ELLIOTT: (pulling open every exterior panel he can find until the weaver unit looks like a slow explosion of metal and plastic) You’re the best ship. Did I ever tell you that?

STARRY: (shaking her head slowly) Nowhere near often enough.

 

Well, that didn’t quite go how I’d hoped. I had intended to at least run basic diagnostics on the silly thing before presenting it to him, so I could tell what kind of condition it was in. Still, he seems happy with it, so I can’t complain.

And who knows, maybe he’ll get it working. Weavers are mostly good for making solid, simple parts from whatever materials you throw into it, and woven parts are known to be of widely varying reliability because of the way the weavers create them. The creators might have claimed that you could weave a whole spaceship if you wanted, but their safety record meant they were never a real threat to Is-Tech’s ship and parts manufacturing businesses.

Whatever the publicity says, from the look on Elliott’s face, he has a few things in mind for the machine. I don’t think it’ll go to waste.

Now I wish I’d found gifts for everyone; we could all use a grin like Elliott’s. Maybe getting us all away from these ghosts for a while will be gift enough.

 

Location: Bridge

(The door swishes open and a small body hurries in. Some distance behind, the nannybot trundles patiently.)

SARA: (pauses and looks around, hugging her stuffed whale to her chest in the face of so many serious adults. Spotting the captain, she trots over and tugs on his pants leg.)

CAPT: (glances down with surprise) Yes, little one?

SARA: (points at the forward view-portals, which are currently closed. When the captain doesn’t immediately respond, she runs over to them and tiptoes to smack one with the palm of her hand.)

CAPT: (rises to follow her) You want to see out, Sara?

SARA: (settles back on her heels and nods, wide-eyed.)

CAPT: Starry?

STARRY: (appearing next to the captain) Opening the forward portals. (The shielding slides down, away from the view-portals, revealing the spray of the starscape.)

SARA: (tiptoes again to look out: first on one side, and then she hurries over to look out the other. She returns to the first side to check it again and makes a small, whimpering sound.)

CAPT: (glances over his shoulder at the rest of the Bridge. Cameron, the Lieutenant, and Lang Lang are watching curiously. He crouches behind the child, to be more on her level.) What is it, Sara? What are you looking for?

SARA: (leans as close to the portal’s clear, cool surface as she can, peering around for the widest view) Whale.

CAPT: (exchanges a look with the ship’s avatar.)

 

Oh, this can’t be good. She’s looking for her friend. But how did she know to look? The inertial dampeners mean she can’t feel that we’re moving, so what made her check?

 

CAPT: He’s not out that way, little one.

SARA: (goes to check the other view-portal again, pressing her nose up against it, little hands gripping the lip surrounding it) Bu- bu- whale.

CAPT: He’s behind us.

LANG LANG: (leaving her station, she comes up beside the captain, on the opposite side to the ship’s avatar) It’s all right, Sara.

SARA: (turns to look up at them, her eyes wide and shining) Whale going away?

CAPT: No, we’re going away for a little while.

SARA: (hiccups a breath in, then face scrunches up.)

LANG LANG: But we’ll be back! We’re coming back. We’ll see him soon.

CAPT: Yes. We’re going on an adventure. We’ll be back—

SARA: No! Can’t leave whale! I WANT WHAAAAAAAAAALE.

 

Oh god. I’ve never heard a child wail like that. From the shocked look on their faces, neither has anyone else on the Bridge except for the captain. He’s reaching for her, trying to comfort her, but she’s fighting him. Wriggling and refusing to be soothed. Kicking and trying to push him away and keep hold of her toy at the same time.

 

Location: Med Bay

STARRY: (voice only) Doctor?

DR SOCKS: (sitting at his desk, going through brain scans) Yes?

STARRY: I think you’re about to be needed on the Bridge. You should probably get up there.

DR SOCKS: (grabbing his emergency kit from the side panel of his desk as he rises) Who?

STARRY: Little Sara.

 

I might be over-reacting but her face has gone bright red and they can’t seem to calm her down. Cameron is rubbing her temple as if the wailing is cutting through her head like a knife. If I didn’t have filters available to me, I might feel the same. Lang Lang looks like she’s about to burst into tears in sympathy with the little one.

It’s not quite the hopeful, auspicious start to our journey that I was hoping for.

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8 Responses to “Perspicacity”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Yayy Starry is on the way again *hugs Starry*

    On to distant stars and planets!!!

    Poor Sara 🙁

    I feared she might react that way 😕

    I hope she can cope with the emptiness when Moby is too far for her to sense… *hugs her*

    mjkj

  2. Francisco Says:

    Given Sara’s reactione during the step, I’m surprised that Starry is surprised.

  3. Francisco Says:

    “reaction”

  4. zjoske Says:

    Ah poor sara

  5. Jostikas Says:

    Mi fyrst thought was: What about Cameron? And then this sentence: “Cameron is rubbing her temple…” Uh oh.

  6. Syphax Says:

    Yay, a story where the characters look at a newly discovered mind bending cosmic entity and say “I’d rather not deal with that.”

  7. thomas Says:

    Opps, better get back home fast.

    I hope Moby does not get mad about the attempted kidnap of Sara.

  8. tijay Says:

    Woo finally got through the archives

    Great story you got here, loving the characters

    How often do you update