13 Feb

Reeling

Ship's log, 16:02, 22 July 2214
Location: On approach to the Cerces black hole
Status: Sublight transit

 

External comms

CELESTIAL STRIDER #1: (male voice) Battlestations! Battlestations, everyone! Weapons hot!

STRIDER #2: (female voice) What? I’m busy with the engines here, so we don’t fall into this black hole and die, and now you want weapons systems?

STARRY: What’s going on over there, Strider?

STRIDER #1: We’ve got the Starwalker incoming. Dammit, Dineen, give me weapons!

STRIDER #2 / DINEEN: I need all available power for propulsion.

STRIDER #3: (male voice) What’s the Starwalker going to do, push us in even faster?

STARRY: (sighing) No, she’s going to pull you out of there. Stand down from your weapons, Strider. The Starwalker‘s coming to tow you to the station.

STRIDER #1: And we’re just supposed to believe that? She’s the one who put us here.

STARRY: As one of your people just pointed out, she doesn’t need to do anything to kill you; she could just stand back. She’s coming to help.

 

Location: Engineering

ELLIOTT: (hurrying into the room and tapping at the holographic interface on his left forearm) Starry, are they weapons-hot?

STARRY: (appearing off to his left) Yes. They’re talking about shooting at us.

ELLIOTT: What the fuck is wrong with them?

STARRY: They just noticed the name on my ident. I’m talking to them.

ELLIOTT: And that’s supposed to help?

STARRY: Well… they kinda think they’re talking to the station.

ELLIOTT: Fuck, Starry.

STARRY: It’s okay, they can’t slow their descent and shoot at us at the same time.

ELLIOTT: And when they’re free of the black hole?

STARRY: (falters) We’ll… just have to deal with that, I guess.

ELLIOTT: With what? I ain’t done repairing our offensive systems yet, never mind restocking your ammo.

STARRY: True. Maybe harsh language will work?

ELLIOTT: (punching at his interface again) Fuck.

 

Location: Bridge

SARA: (grabs the ledge at the bottom of a forward view-portal and tries to pull herself up. The portal’s shielding is currently closed, blocking any view of the outside of the ship. The little girl’s legs are too short; she can’t quite get her foot up onto the ledge.)

CASPER: (sits behind her and watches her attempts. After a moment, he trundles forward and picks her up in two of his hands to place her carefully on the ledge. A third hand picks up the stuffed whale from where it fell off the ledge onto the floor.)

SARA: (beams at the drone and pats him on the head. Then she holds out her hands for her toy.)

CASPER: (gives her the whale.)

SARA: (tucks the whale under one arm. Then she turns to the forward view-portal and pushes on it with one hand, grunting with the strain.)

CASPER: (tilts his head as he watches her and settles back to wait.)

SARA: (pushes harder, and then whaps it with her stuffed toy. When the shielding fails to respond, her face crumples up and a high-pitched whining begins.)

CASPER: (looks around the Bridge.)

SARA: (begins try cry in earnest.)

STARRY: (appears next to the drone, looking harried) Casper, you’re supposed to be keeping her busy and quiet. What’s going on?

CASPER: (points at the view-portal, then shrugs.)

STARRY: Well, she can’t– Sara? Sara, honey, look at me.

SARA: (turns her head just enough to see the ship’s avatar out of the corner of her eye, still crying loudly and with determination.)

STARRY: Sara, we’re approaching the black hole. It’s too dangerous to open the portal right now. That shielding is there to protect–

SARA: (sobs louder, drowning out the ship’s words.)

STARRY: (looks at her helplessly and sighs) I don’t have time for this. Sara, you want to see the black hole?

SARA: (nods, gulping and crying and sobbing all at once.)

STARRY: Okay, but I need you to go sit in the seat over there. (She points to the chair in the middle of the Bridge.) Then you’ll be able to see it. All right?

SARA: (cries loudly.)

STARRY: Casper, get her in the chair and lashed in. Projection will be up in a moment. (She disappears.)

CASPER: (trundles forward to pick up the child.)

SARA: (struggles and kicks when she’s picked up, her cries rising several decibels and bouncing off the Bridge’s walls.)

CASPER: (holds the girl away from himself so her flailing limbs can’t strike him, and whisks her over to the captain’s chair. The harness wraps around her little struggling body as soon as she touches it.)

(In the air between the child and the forward portals, a hologram of the black hole swells and spins, spreading to the walls and making the nose of the ship seem to disappear.)

SARA: (hiccups and blinks, surprised into silence when the hologram appears. She looks at Casper, then back to the vortex spinning patiently before her, with wide, wet eyes. Her voice is small and hopeful.) Whale?

 

External comms

STARRY: I said, stand down, Strider!

STRIDER #1: You don’t understand, the Starwalker, she–

STARRY: I do understand! Do you see any weapons active? No? Then shut up and sit still. I’m coming around to line up the grapples.

STRIDER #3: Wait, who is this?

 

Location: Engineering

ELLIOTT: (fastening up his suit as he strides out of Engineering, keeping on eye on the readouts displayed above his left forearm) Starry, it’s looking pretty rough out there.

STARRY: Yeah, they’re pretty close in. We don’t have much time.

ELLIOTT: You sure we’re going to make this?

STARRY: I’m sure. We have to, Elliott. I’m not leaving them.

ELLIOTT: (turning down towards the cargo bays) ‘Course you’re not. All right, let’s do this. Going to the starboard grapple.

STARRY: Big Ass is on the port side. Thirty seconds until we’re in range.

ELLIOTT: (clips his helmet on and breaks into a jog.)

 

External comms

STRIDER #1: What?

STRIDER #3: I’d like to know who I’m gonna die with.

STARRY: No-one’s dying today, do you hear me? Now, shut up and listen. We’re fifteen seconds out, and we’re only gonna get one shot at this.

STRIDER #1: Shot?

STARRY: It’s a figure of speech! There’s no time – you’re too close in. Just keep still, Strider! Grapples deploying.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 3

ELLIOTT: (in the airlock, mag-boots planted firmly, with a cable as thick as his arm unspooling from a massive wheel. The cable slides past his feet and out of the open airlock towards the gleaming black swirl of the singularity. He lowers the big crossbow-like device in his arms, grinning inside his helmet.) WHOOO-HOOO, gotcha. How’s that for a perfect shot?

STARRY: Not bad! Starboard grapple secure. Turning to deploy the port side grapple… You’d better get inside.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. The grapples holding?

STARRY: Almost, almost… port grapple’s having trouble getting a good hold.

ELLIOTT: (heading back into the ship proper) This is what happens when you don’t give me enough time to calibrate them. Or I’m just a better shot than you.

STARRY: Not likely. It’s holding! Both grapples are holding.

ELLIOTT: Good girl. You got tension?

STARRY: Coming about…

ELLIOTT: Try not to rip the mountings out, okay?

 

External comms

DINEEN: Contact! We got contact. Augh!

STARRY: Grapples have you, Strider. What’s wrong?

DINEEN: It’s a bit fucking rough at this end! Inertial dampeners aren’t handling the gravity fluctuations.

STARRY: It’s about to get rougher. I’m gonna try to drag you laterally, build up some momentum before we arc free.

STRIDER #3: I knew it: we’re talking to the Starwalker.

STARRY: Yeah. I had the station transfer your call to coordinate the rescue. You gonna whine about it or hang onto something while I pull your ass out of the fire?

STRIDER #1: (angrily) But you’re the one who put us into–

STRIDER #3: Shut up, Riede. All right, Starwalker. We’ll sort out the rest later. Tell us what you need us to do.

DINEEN: Oh, you’ve decided to be in charge, have you?

STRIDER #3: You wanna die today, Dineen? I didn’t think so. Let’s just get out of this, shall we?

STARRY: Okay, Strider. I’m taking up the slack; you’re gonna feel a little jolt.

STRIDER: (various cries and thuds.)

STARRY: Strider, you all right over there? Strider, respond.

 

Location: Cargo Bay Access Corridor

ELLIOTT: (standing between the two rear cargo bays, he watches his holo-display ripple with data) Easy does it, Starry.

STARRY: Tow cables are holding. I’m not getting a lot of traction here, though.

ELLIOTT: The Strider‘s too close to the event horizon. They must have rigged the inertial dampeners up to counter the gravitational forces – they must be all that’s holding her hull together right now.

STARRY: It’s okay, we can do this. I’ve halted their descent.

ELLIOTT: We need to do a hell of a lot more than that if we’re gonna get them out of there.

STARRY: Yeah. I’m working on it.

 

External comms

STARRY: Strider, please respond. Dineen? Riede? Can you hear me?

STRIDER #1 / RIEDE: Yes! Yes, we hear you.

STRIDER #3: We seem to be holding position.

STARRY: I’m trying to work you free. Can you get any more power to your engines?

DINEEN: Everything we’ve got is there already. Even the emergency systems are offline.

STRIDER #3: What? You didn’t tell us that.

DINEEN: What was the point? Emergency systems ain’t gonna help us inside a black hole.

STARRY: Okay, Strider, I understand. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

STRIDER #3: What are you going to do?

STARRY: Not sure yet. Probably something stupid.

RIEDE: Wait, what?

 

Location: Bridge

(In the centre of the room, the hologram has blossomed, showing the swirling maw of the black hole in vivid detail. It spins and glimmers darkly.)

SARA: (wriggles out of the chair’s harness and bolts across the floor until she’s standing inside the hologram.)

CASPER: (makes a grab for her as she rushes past him, and misses. He turns and trundles patiently after her, but pauses before he enters the projected image.)

SARA: (looks up at the light of the black hole all around her, beaming brightly. Her cheeks are still red and smeared with tears, but she has clearly forgotten them now. She laughs, burbling incoherently, and grasps a hand at the trail of spinning matter.)

CASPER: (tilts his head as he watches her.)

 

External comms: station

CAPTAIN: Starry, report!

STARRY: We’ve got them on the hook, captain. Little busy here.

CAPT: Why are you circling around like that?

STARRY: Having a little trouble working them loose. Trying to find the best angle to gain some momentum here.

CAPT: What does Monaghan say?

STARRY: A lot of things that would make a whore blush. We’re working on the problem.

CAPT: All right. Just remember your orders.

STARRY: (quietly) I’ll cut them loose if I have to, if there’s no other way.

CAPT: Yes. Last resort. Keep me updated, Starwalker. Good luck.

 

External comms: Celestial Strider

DINEEN: You keep hauling at us like that, you’re gonna pull us apart!

STARRY: I’m doing my best here!

STRIDER #4: (female voice, calmly) We’ve slipped too close to the event horizon. They’re not going to be able to get us out.

STRIDER #3: I don’t accept that! We’re not dead yet; there must be a way. Dineen?

DINEEN: I’m doing everything I can. I don’t know what else to try.

RIEDE: There must be something.

 

Location: Cargo Bay Access Corridor

STARRY: (voice only) Elliott, I need more power to the engines.

ELLIOTT: I just installed them; don’t you dare try to burn them out already.

STARRY: (appearing in front of him) I need more power to break them free. I’m at max thrust just keeping them still.

ELLIOTT: You’re at max power keeping both of us out of that black hole. It ain’t just their mass we’ve gotta worry about here.

STARRY: Mass. Maybe that’s it, if we lose some mass….

ELLIOTT: You’re pretty empty already, Starry. Ain’t much we can lose here.

STARRY: That’s us, but what about…

 

External comms: Celestial Strider

STARRY: Strider, can you jettison any cargo?

DINEEN: What, you think we didn’t think of that? We got rid of all non-essential equipment the first time we lost ground out here. Supplies, ammo, everything.

RIEDE: You jettisoned our ammo?

DINEEN: Yeah, that’s what’s important right now, let’s focus on that.

STARRY: Look, I’ll try more thrust. Hold on.

ELLIOTT: (breaking into the comm line) Starry, stop! You’ll tear the tow-lines right out of their anchors.

STRIDER #3: And you’re gonna tear us apart, too! I dunno who that is, but you should listen to him.

STARRY: All right, all right! I’m backing off.

RIEDE: (bleakly) Oh god, Nerozina is right. We’re really not going to make it out of this.

 

Location: Bridge

SARA: (dances around in the hologram, arms out and fingers trailing through the projected light. She laughs and runs to pick up her stuffed whale from where she had dropped it. She throws him clumsily, right into the holographic maw, and trots after him with a giggle.)

 

External comms: Celestial Strider

STARRY: I’m not ready to give up yet.

RIEDE: You have another bright idea?

ELLIOTT: I’m all out of options here. Can’t fight physics.

STARRY: (tone brightening) But we can. It’s what we were sent out here to do, right?

ELLIOTT: Oh, fuck me…

STARRY: Strider, I do have another idea, but you’re probably not going to like it.

RIEDE: What the hell does that mean? There’s no way you’re gonna pull us out of here, not without ripping one or both ships apart.

STARRY: You’re right. I can’t pull you out of the black hole, so we’re gonna have to go through it.

 

Star Step drive initialising...
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15 Responses to “Reeling”

  1. Targetdrone Says:

    now… that last line sure is something you dont want to hear when your stuck next to the event horizon of a black hole :p

    and im curious on what they turn up with if they really go through…. an extra passanger? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Marcus Says:

    And there we have the “Something stupid.”

    Looking forward to the next update.

  3. Zjoske Says:

    Love it!!!

    “Not sure yet. Probably something stupid.”
    That would make your heart skip a couple of beats ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I didn’t realize that the step drive was fixed? Very curious how this will turn out. Were are they stepping to? And what will the reaction of the Whale be?

  4. mjkj Says:

    *lol*

    Sarah is close to her friend – but the communication does not really seem to be that forward…

    So, Starry has to step and come back with the Strider in tow – I just hope they do not freak out.

    …and I wonder what Sarah will do when they step through her whale…

    …and I also wonder if stepping is hurting the black hole as it did the sun or not.

    mjkj

  5. Syphax Says:

    Doesn’t the stepping thing need to charge next to a sun to do that? Or has that been fixed and I missed it?

    And good chapter! I want to meet the Strider’s crew now. Assuming they don’t get annihilated by a black hole or the outside of course.

  6. Medic Says:

    @Syphax

    It was established in earlier chapters that the Step drive uses the gravity of a star to rip open spacetime (yes I put it that way on purpose). Since a blackhole is nothing but gravity (the mass is squished to a tiny speck), the Step drive will work. However, since we know that it causes pain to the stars, and their avatars reflect that, there’s no telling how it will affect Sara.

    @mjkj
    It seems to me that Whale and Sara are communicating on an empathic level. Not sure what to make of it right now, too many possibilities.

    Anyone else feel that it’s just a bunch of scientists on Strider? From just the conversations/arguments, I get the feeling that there’s no real command structure. This screams “CIVILIANS” to me.

    I’ve been re-reading the archives and have been impressed by one thing, over the years, the characters personalities have remained true. Yes, there has been development, but that is to be expected. Mel, you have an awesome grasp on how people think and act. Great work.

  7. Francisco Says:

    Questions that occur to me are:

    Where and, more importantly, when will they go to? Will the system be inhabited? Will their arrival have consequences for that system?

    Is Starry’s safety net still operational? Will she be able to tell the crew their story?

  8. Marque Says:

    Sara, Sara, Sara – not only are you where you want to be it seems to me that you might be getting a new home.

  9. mjkj Says:

    ๐Ÿ˜ฎ So, we have a whole family now… ๐Ÿ˜€

    Starry, Elliott and Sara ๐Ÿ™‚ – and the family is complete ๐Ÿ˜‰

    mjkj

  10. Medic Says:

    @Francisco
    I think Starry has a handle on the temporal part of the Step. She’s able to choose when/where to she wants to be while Outside. But then again, she does tend to forget little details like accounting for the shift in balance the Strider will have on them (Starry’s engines will be above the center of mass and Strider’s engine will not have enough thrust to overcome). So that would bring us back to your comment. Well, craps…

    @mjkj

    ๐Ÿ˜€ hehe
    As the one who has hugged Starry the most, (my trip through the archives is almost done… again) You win this Starwalker Plushy! (Sadly, I do not have the talent to make a real one) Oh MELANIE!!

  11. Melanie Says:

    Targetdrone – ahahahaha. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Marcus – at least she lives up to her word?

    Zjoske – ๐Ÿ˜€ The Step drive hasn’t been explicitly fixed, no. They haven’t really checked on how it is faring after all the repairs on the rest of the ship. But I guess we’ll find out soon. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    mjkj – yes, Sara is very happy. She’s playing catch with a hologram of her friend! …sort of.
    Starry, Elliott, and Sara – they make a strange little family, huh?

    Syphax – Medic is correct; gravity is what the Step drive charges up on. She has to be close to a star to have enough to draw from; I figure the forces around a black hole will be more than sufficient.
    Looking forward to showing you all more of the Strider’s crew, too. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Medic – thank you! I love exploring how different characters react to things, and change, and grow – or refuse to. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Francisco – all good questions. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Marque – just wait until the captain finds out she’s been sitting in his chair.

    Medic – what good timing you have! As it happens, I might be in the process of investigating plushie possibilities. But shh, it’s a secret, don’t tell anyone. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. thomas Says:

    I can only think of one thing worse to hear: Opps! Not that Starry would make a mistake but that would not be a good thing to hear over the comms.

    Great chapter Melanie. It seems very apropos for a ghost to babysit the emissary. I loved that section.

  13. Melanie Says:

    thomas – very true!

    Glad you liked the Casper/Sara bits. They’re so fun to write. I love dialogue, but the characters who can’t or don’t speak (much) are an interesting challenge sometimes. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Kunama Says:

    “appears next to the drove, looking harried”
    drove -> drone

  15. Melanie Says:

    Thanks Kunama! Fixed it. I fixed one of these already in the post when I edited it; didn’t realise I had two. ๐Ÿ™ Curse those typos that the spellcheck doesn’t pick up.