Captain's log, 06:00, 14 July 2214 Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Docked and powered down Log location: Captain's cabin
This is Captain Warwick reporting on the situation on Sarabande Station. We located and spoke with Acting Station Commander Marlo Iggulden yesterday, and I have been up most of the night trying to work out what to make of the things he told us.
The challenge is picking the useful information out of his ramblings, theories, and random soliloquies. He has been alone with his ghosts for some time and while he seems to have adjusted to it fairly successfully, the adjustment has given him some… quirks.
The first thing we asked was about other people on the station. Iggulden says that he hasn’t seen anyone directly for some time (he refused to be more specific than ‘some time’), but he believes there are a few people still alive somewhere. He was surprised to hear that Sara was all right, so I’m not sure how much faith to put in his opinion about this.
I think he shut himself away from the station’s population some months ago and wasn’t witness to their fates.
That was as much help as he was able to give about the rest of the station’s personnel. Starry is still trying to locate the life signs on the station’s sensors; there are two left she has yet to identify. So far, Iggulden and Sara are the only two people she has found; the rest have turned out to be animals. I don’t know what to hope for from the last two life signs. Is there anyone who will be able to help us?
According to what he told us, the station’s personnel never tracked down the source of the delusions. They came to the same conclusions that we did: that they are all linked to people on the station, that a strong emotional connection is required, and that the hallucinations are shared. They investigated many of the same avenues we thought about: some kind of signal or projection; a virus that might infect cerebral implants; or substances in the food, air, and water. They monitored everything in the environment and came up with nothing. The implant idea was scrapped once it was clear that even those without them were affected, which we’ve confirmed with young Sara. She sees and interacts with ghosts freely, including one we believe was her mother, and scans reveal that she doesn’t have a single implant in her.
There were many theories held by those on board the station, but the key fact was this: the information about the ghosts (and indeed the food and other parts of the hallucinations) was all gleaned from the minds of those affected. These are not only the ghosts of the people we remember; they are the people as we remember them. The few times when people remembered the same person led to some strange clashes that resulted in instabilities in the ghost. They apparently tried to satisfy all of the information at once, and when they couldn’t, they would flicker between remembered realities.
We haven’t seen that ourselves, but I suppose that none of the crew has been deeply attached to the same person. With so few people left on board the station, it hasn’t happened in a long time, either. But Iggulden swears that it did. Children remembering a lost parent; lovers remembering the same ex. They found the easiest way to deal with it was to avoid all being in the same room at the same time.
So whatever is doing this is taking the memories right out of our brains and monitoring our reactions to the ghosts. Potentially, the hallucinations are being projected directly into our brains as well; this would explain why there don’t seem to be any detectable changes in the environment. A purely psionic effect would seem to make sense. We don’t have the sensors to detect transmissions on whatever wavelength or medium that would be, so it’s hard to confirm, though Starry is still trying to track down something we could detect or trace.
This information eliminates some potential causes of the phenomenon, but it doesn’t bring us much closer to what the real cause is. What could possibly interact with our brains in this way? It’s outside of anything that we know is currently possible.
However, it’s not beyond the realm of feasibility that there was an experiment going on here that would redefine what we currently think of as possible. That was, after all, what we were doing with the Starwalker and the Star Step drive.
Starry’s investigations of the station’s systems haven’t revealed any hidden or locked sections that might hold orders, information, or protocols for an experiment like that. We haven’t found any traces of monitoring equipment that would be part of something like that, on or off the station.
Add to that the data Starry gleaned from her conversation with the Celestial Strider, and an experiment becomes less likely. The source of the phenomenon seems to be in the vicinity of the black hole, and our scans have not detected any equipment out there. We can pick up the Celestial Strider on our sensors just fine, and if there was anything else hovering in that area, we’d see it, too. Anything closer to the event horizon of the singularity would be sucked in.
There’s also Sara and her whale, though Dr Valdimir doesn’t know what to make of that. I asked Starry to go over logs of Sara’s habits since she has been staying in the visitor’s section with us, and it seems that she often goes to look out of the window when the black hole is in view. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
Dr Valdimir wants to get Sara down to Med Bay for tests, to investigate the possible impacts of the psionic phenomenon on her brain. She was born here and has grown up with ghosts. It saddens me to think about what that might have done to a developing brain, to a child. Dr Valdimir said he’d look into that today.
The black hole. Every time we look into this phenomenon, the data leads us there. There’s a word that no-one has said but I think it’s on many minds right now: avatar. If Cerces was once a star, what happened to its consciousness when it collapsed in on itself? Did it ever have an avatar? Where might it be now? Could it be Sara’s whale? Is it dead?
I wish that Kess was here right now; it would be useful to have someone to ask about how it all works. We should have asked her so many more questions while she was on board, but even then, would we have known to ask about this?
There’s no benefit in wishing. Kess isn’t here and we have to do the best with what we’ve got. We know that stars have a consciousness, and that sometimes they have avatars that we can detect and interact with. We know that, once upon a time, Cerces was a star. An avatar may be involved.
So perhaps it is time for a different question. Rather than what is causing the ghosts, we should be asking: what are the ghosts for? Is there some purpose to all of this? What might an ex-star want with us?
We asked Iggulden about it, and he didn’t have any idea about a purpose behind the illusory people that clutter up his cave. He accepted them, used them where it suited him, and thought no more deeply about it. He continues to keep the station in good repair and lives a fairly comfortable life. He doesn’t seem to want anything more.
We’re not the first to ask why these ghosts are here. We’re not the first to ask the ghosts themselves why they’re here. They don’t know. I tried to talk to– the illusion of my wife. She smiled and shook her head, as if she didn’t understand the question. She’s here because I remember her, she said. She’s here so I can talk to her.
I even tried asking Sara why the ghosts were here, but she didn’t understand the question either. She just stared at me until I changed the subject.
We’re refocussing our efforts onto answering this question now. I think if we can figure out the why, we’ll know the who and how. Of course, then we have to figure out how to stop it, or what to do from there, but that’s something we’ll worry about once we have this part answered.
It feels close. It’s like we almost understand it; we just haven’t phrased the question in the right words.
In the meantime, Starry is doing a good job of keeping us in touch with reality. She’s helping us to eat properly and know the ghosts when we see them. Now that Monaghan is repairing her core systems, she’s able to help us more with the station’s resources as well.
All the same, I’m concerned about my crew. They’re all working hard at their jobs but the ghosts are taking their toll. So far, I’ve seen several illusions belonging to each of my people, in addition to my own apparitions. I don’t think they were particularly welcome visitations. I am torn between respecting my crew’s privacy and my desire to understand who these ghosts are and what they mean to my crew.
I asked Dr Valdimir to keep an eye on everyone, as he’s our psychological expert. However, I am worried about him most of all. He has two women and a man in near constant ghostly attendance, and he seems deeply unhappy around them. He is the one who ignores the ghosts most strenuously.
Who watches the watchmen? I guess that’s my job. And Starry’s, though it’s more difficult for her because she can’t see the ghosts.
So that’s where we are right now. Trying to work out why we’re surrounded by ghosts, while we get our ship repaired. And then maybe, just maybe, we can leave this place and move on.
External ship comms
DR SOCKS: (voice only) Excuse me, captain?
CAPTAIN: Yes, doctor?
DR SOCKS: You should get over to the station’s Med Bay right away.
CAPT: You found something?
DR SOCKS: No. Lang Lang Cartier just woke up.
CAPT: I’m on my way.
Now that’s the sort of news we need more of.