Ship's log, 14:49, 15 July 2214 Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Docked and powered down
Messages are flying at me from every direction. My systems are up to 85% capacity and climbing, and it feels good to be able to handle it.
My own ship systems are largely disabled due to being docked and feeding off the station, but I’m monitoring them all now. Some are working better than others; there’s still repairs to make on most of them. Parts to replace, re-routing to un-route back to how it should be, shunts to remove, channels to unblock. It feels like it’s coming along faster with every day that passes.
Most of the processing I’m handling now is relating to the station’s systems. I’ve shoehorned my way into most of its protocols, set up command lines that let me control things from where I’m docked. I have to be careful of its failsafes – I got locked out of the core systems for a couple of hours yesterday after I tripped over a safety measure – but for the most part, I can get the station to do what I need it to. Eventually.
Not that it’s easy to navigate. I’m still bewildered about how this AI ever ran successfully. I guess the Acting Commander was doing a lot of monitoring down in his cave to keep things going, though I have no idea what he’s doing now. Certainly nothing that I’ve been able to detect, not within the station’s systems, and he hasn’t interfered with my manipulations at all. Which I’m grateful for, so I’m not going to look that particular gift horse in the mouth.
I wonder what the hell a gift horse is.
Anyway. At this moment, I’m mostly fielding messages about the locations of food stores, drink supplies, and non-essential sundries. I managed to comandeer a couple of the station’s drones to transport boxes up to the Visitor’s Lounge. They’re hard to control but it’s getting easier with practice. It’s all about knowing what buttons to push to get them to do what I want, and sometimes it’s more straightforward than others. For this particular job, pretending that there was a shipment going out and these boxes are its cargo worked a treat.
Down in the station’s Med Bay, the doctor is getting Lang Lang ready to come up to the Lounge. He’s sorting out a crutch for her, as her left leg is still undergoing reconstruction and is encased in a puffy cast all the way up to just above the knee. She can’t walk on it yet. I don’t know if she’ll be staying in one of the visitor’s rooms or heading back down to the Med Bay; that’s up to the doctor. But she’s coming up to visit us today and we’re determined to make a bit of a fuss of her.
In the Lounge right now, Rosie is in charge of the liquid refreshment, and she’s busy packing it into the big fridges. The captain is sorting out the food, sifting snacks out into plates and bowls, with Waldo’s help. I’ve loaned them his four hands for the preparation efforts, leaving the other drones to continue the repair efforts. Even Elliott has allowed himself to be pulled away from his work; he’s currently working the balloon-dispensing device, much to little Sara’s delight.
Sara isn’t exactly helping, though she loves getting involved. Somehow, she knows exactly when Elliott has finished making a new balloon (they’re basically big, light rubbery balls that are only lightly affected by the artificial gravity). She appears by his knee with her hands out, slaps them on either side of the newest balloon, and proceeds to run off with it. Around halfway across the room, she loses her grip on the ball, and winds up chasing after it, giggling like a tiny lunatic. Every time she gets close, her eager little feet kick it further ahead, and she keeps chasing until she has managed to knock it out of her reach. Then it’s back to Elliott for the next one. He seems completely bewildered by the whole process. I’m not sure how many balloons he intends to make, but almost every table and ledge is host to at least one so far.
Earlier, the SecOffs hung some decorations from the ceiling, glittering strands that refract the light if we turn the light sources the right way. I’m still working on access to the lighting and projectors for the Visitor’s Lounge; I’ve got through most of the protections around those systems, and it shouldn’t take much longer for me to gain full control. Then I’ll be able to do a proper banner projection for Lang Lang’s return.
She has no idea. I can’t wait to see her face.
Station sensors: live feed Station location: Visitor's Lounge
STARRY: (voice only) Lang Lang and the doctor are on their way up.
CAPTAIN: (arranging bowls on a table) How long do we have?
STARRY: About ten minutes.
CAPT: All right, let’s double-time it, people. Starry, how’s your access coming?
STARRY: Almost there, captain.
CAPT: Think you’ll have it in time?
Well, I’ll try my hardest, anyway.
The only person who isn’t helping with the welcome preparations is the Lieutenant. He’s down in the security sector of the station, checking out a life signal.
Late yesterday, one of my Securipups came bounding back to me with a scrap of data. It was from a security log, reporting on a prisoner that was being held in the station’s brig facilities. Strangely, there was no crime listed, just a name: Brenn Haitom. According to the log, he was incarcerated five months ago for ‘safety’. I’ve been through the sensor logs for that sector and can’t find any contacts that match up with a life sign. However, I did find records of a drone that has been coming and going regularly with food, liquid, and clean clothing.
There is an active life sign in that sector. One that has somehow avoided all of the sensors down there. There’s supposed to be sensors in all of the cells, for monitoring inmates, but the repairs haven’t been kept up-to-date.
It’s likely that if Brenn is still alive, he’s still locked up, so the captain sent the Lieutenant down to check it out on his own. He has taken some remote sensors that Elliott prepared with him so I can monitor the situation; we don’t want a repeat of the Iggulden incident with the cave where I couldn’t keep an eye on them. He has the sensors pinned to his jacket; the view bobs up and down as he walks, which makes me a little nauseous if I pay too much attention to it, but I’m getting used to it.
He’s almost into the centre of the security sector. I’m having to hack the locks as he goes, forcing his way in. I’m trying to attach Chief of Security-level access to him but the station is fighting me. Even declaring the incumbent Chief dead hasn’t freed it up. Stupid station. Why does it have to resist me on every little thing?
Just a couple of doors left to go, then he’ll be near the life sign. He’s on the second level of cells, down in the long-term section. It doesn’t bode well. Is this Brenn even someone we’ll want to talk to? What can he have to offer us?
I guess there’s no harm in asking.
Hacking there, hacking in the Visitor’s Lounge. I feel like all I’m doing these days is breaking down code walls, violating protocols, and pushing my hands into places they shouldn’t be. It’s for a good reason; I know it is. And I know it has to be done. But sometimes I just wish there was a better way to do this. Maybe there is and I just can’t see it.
I can’t help but think that a professional like Tyler or Tripi would have the station housebroken and begging at our feet by now. I miss Tyler. Not Tripi, I still despise her and everything she did. But I miss Tyler. I wonder how he’s faring with Captain Hunt and the pirates.
I haven’t forgotten you, Tyler. Just like I haven’t forgotten the crewmembers that are frozen in my storage, so badly damaged but preserved in case we can revive them one day. Maybe I should ask the doctor to take a look at them while we have a station’s full Med Bay at our disposal. Maybe this is a good time to try.
But in the meantime, let’s just be grateful that we got one of our number back. Rosie is arranging the drinks with her favourite beer in easy grabbing range. The captain is putting out the biggest spread I’ve seen us do. Elliott is now making tiny balloons and bouncing them off Sara’s head, while she giggles and completely fails to capture any of them.
I’m through on the Lounge circuits! I can access the lighting controls and the holo-projectors. We don’t need the control interfaces on the food dispensers right now, so I can repurpose their projectors to create a banner across the entrance.
CAPT: Starry, how long have we got?
STARRY: About two minutes, captain. They’re in the elevator car now.
CAPT: How is the… (He pauses, turning to look at the station-side entrance to the Lounge. There, shivering in the air above the doorway uncertainly, hover the words ‘Welcome Ba’ and ‘ng Lang’.) …banner coming?
STARRY: The projectors don’t have great range. Working on it.
CAPT: (nods) Are we ready, everyone? Monaghan, stop beating the child up with balloons.
ELLIOTT: (looking over with a lopsided grin) What? She loves it.
SARA: (grabs up a balloon and hefts it at Elliott. It bounces on the floor about halfway between them and wanders off to the side.)
ELLIOTT: (to the child) Weakling. (He lobs a balloon high. It comes down towards her head.)
SARA: (giggles and bats at the balloon with both hands, her face screwed up. The balloon bounces off her nose.)
Stupid station. This would be easy if it was in my Mess Hall; I have proper projector coverage there. Not that my holographic systems are working right now.
That’s tomorrow’s job. Today’s is getting this one to work. It would be nice if I could at least project her whole name. Maybe if I alter their angle a little, lower the projection so she has to walk through it to get into the Lounge, boost power to the projectors… there! We have a whole banner! It meets in the middle and everything.
The captain is smiling with relief. He’s calling everyone together. It’s a shame the Lieutenant isn’t here. I’m busy unlocking the next door for him, down in the security sector.
The lighting! Right, yes. Just need to alter the angle of the light sources so it reflects off the hanging strips… and now we have coloured light bouncing all over the room. It’s pretty! Like a kaleidoscope starscape painted on the room. Lang Lang will love it.
They’re coming up the corridor. Time to shush everyone. The captain is waving for quiet. Waldo has come up beside him, as if my drone is part of the welcoming committee too. Of course he is. Sara is bashing Elliott on the knee with a balloon. He gives her a frown, no idea what to do to stop her, but the captain crouches down and puts his fingers to his lips. That seems to work: she’s quiet now, staring at him with wide eyes. It also seems that she has just noticed the shifting lights.
There’s one holographic projector that isn’t in a position to be used for the banner; it’s too far back in the room. But maybe, just maybe, I have enough processing power for a different projection. Have to concentrate, can’t make it as solid as I usually do, and I have to build it quickly. Lang Lang and the doctor are just a few steps away. Start at the feet and work my way up. Quickly, quickly, have to remember to smile and look in the right direction. Wow, it’s harder when I’m not using my own sensors. But there I am, my avatar, standing in the line beside Elliott, pale and flickering just a little bit.
(Just inside the curve of the shimmering banner that says, ‘Welcome Back Lang Lang’, the line extends across the middle of the Lounge: from Waldo on the one end, to the captain, to Rosie, to little Sara, to Elliott, to the ship’s avatar wavering at the other end. The engineer starts and blinks with surprise at the hologram beside him. The avatar smiles at the banner and remembers to blink.
The banner shivers as a body passes through it. Lang Lang limps through, her weight supported on her right side by a crutch, her left foot held out to the side to keep the cast off the ground. The navigator looks at the room with wide eyes, and a startled smile hovers around her lips.
Behind her, the doctor steps into the room as well, making the banner words shiver. He stays back out of the way, leaving the navigator to stand on her own.)
CAPT: (steps forward) Welcome back, Navigator Cartier.
LANG LANG: (still looking around the room but not ignoring the captain in the least) It’s… good to be back.
WALDO: (starts clapping both of his pairs of hands.)
ROSIE: (grins and picks up the applause.)
ELLIOTT: (rolls his eyes, but he joins in.)
CAPT and DR SOCKS: (clap too.)
AVATAR: (puts her hands together, though there’s no accompanying sound.)
SARA: (looks from Rosie to Elliott and back again, then sidles shyly behind Rosie’s leg.)
ROSIE: (doesn’t appear to notice the kid.)
LANG LANG: (blushes as the applause subsides) You really didn’t have to go to any trouble.
CAPT: (smiling at her) Of course we did.
DR SOCKS: (stepping forward) How about we let her sit down? Seeing as she wouldn’t let me bring her up here in a chair.
LANG LANG: I really do feel better on my feet, and I don’t want you to have to push me around. Though a little rest would be good. (She hobbles towards one of the bigger tables, following the captain’s guidance.)
ELLIOTT: (turns to his right, to give the avatar a frown) Starry, is that really you?
AVATAR: (opens her mouth to respond, then blinks at the engineer and shrugs. Her image shivers, then flickers out.)
ELLIOTT: (frown deepens.)
STARRY: (voice only) Yes, it was me. The relay through the station’s systems makes it too hard to speak properly, though; the sound projection’s off. And… it’s just a little weird. The connection’s not good enough; too much delay.
ELLIOTT: Don’t do that. It’s freaky.
STARRY: I just wanted to be here to welcome her back.
ELLIOTT: Yeah, you’ll do it for her. (He stomps off to get a drink.)
What’s that supposed to mean? Is this about the thing with the immersion chair? He has been grumpy with me ever since, and… oh.
He has been seeing my ghost around because he misses me. I’m such an idiot.
I need to fix this. Screw the inertial dampening systems; that can be repaired later. I’d better get my boys onto fixing my holographic projectors so I can be there when Elliott comes back on board. At least in Engineering. I need to make it so he doesn’t see that ghost any more. Waldo’s heading back to me to help; good boy.
LANG LANG: (sitting at a table now, her injured leg propped up on a chair. She has a hand wrapped around a cup of fizzy liquid, non-alcoholic much to Rosie’s disappointment.) Real chocolate? (She peers at the contents of the plate the SecOff is offering to her.) Really?
ROSIE: (around a mouthful of the dark chocolatey sweetness) Yup.
LANG LANG: Wow, all the way out here. (She takes a piece, then blinks at the face peeking at her from behind a nearby chair and smiles.) And who’s this?
CAPT: (seated opposite the navigator) That’s Sara, we found her here on the station. It’s all right, Sara.
LANG LANG: (glancing up at the captain) Here? On her own?
SARA: (comes out from behind the chair shyly and approaches the stranger. She offers Lang Lang the little balloon she holds between her hands.)
LANG LANG: (smiles warmly at the child and takes the balloon) Thank you, Sara. I’m Lang Lang.
SARA: Whale likes the nice lady.
CAPT: (stares at the child, eyebrows lifting.)
LANG LANG: (mouth falls open.)
ROSIE: (tossing a handful of chocolate pieces into her mouth) Fuckin’ weird kid.
SARA: (runs over to one of the Lounge’s long windows, tiptoes, and pulls her stuffed toy down off the sill. She tucks the plush whale under her arm, then jogs over to Rosie to hold out her free hand.) Choc’late?
ROSIE: (rolls her eyes and puts a piece in the child’s hand) In your mouth, kid. Not all over. In.
SARA: (smiles brightly) Choc’late.
I think that’s the most we’ve ever heard Sara say in one go. A complete sentence and everything. And from the looks on the captain and the doctor’s faces, that’s not all that’s astonishing about it. I can almost hear the cogs in the captain’s head turning, but he’s smiling and shaking his head at the doctor. Not now. Not today. Today is for eating and drinking and pretty lights. And bashing on each other with balloons. Later, once the Lieutenant gets back, there might be music and dancing, or maybe singing.
Today is for welcoming one of our own back to us.