Ship's log, 20:52, 28 September 2214 Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Docked, powered down
It’s amazing how quickly things can move once you’ve made a decision. When the man in charge is open to a new direction.
The crew were quick to voice their objections and opinions when they realised the door was open; it was several long minutes before things settled enough to get to actual solutions. Once past the venting, though, they focussed quickly on alternatives to our current ‘poke the bear’ tactics.
The consensus came down to two important facts: they were willing to help Cerces, whichever way they could; but they weren’t happy with putting so many people at risk in the process.
Recording: 21:14, 26 September 2214 Location: Mess Hall
LANG LANG: I think we should keep going. We’re so close to real contact.
ROSIE: (snorting) Think we’ve more’n achieved ‘contact’.
LANG LANG: Real communication then.
ROSIE: (gesturing wildly) Yeah, close enough for him to crack that head of yours right open.
CAPT: What alternatives do we have?
ROSIE: (to Lang Lang) Like an egg.
LANG LANG: (looks troubled.)
ELLIOTT: Well, this ain’t exactly a new development, right?
CAPT: What do you mean?
ELLIOTT: The black hole, he has to have been like this a while. Centuries or something. Starry, how long has he been a black hole?
STARRY: (standing nearby) Calculations put the collapse around 20,491 years ago, by our calendar.
ELLIOTT: That’s weirdly specific. I was looking for a ballpark.
STARRY: (shrugs) Sometimes I get bored and calculate… things.
ELLIOTT: (eyebrows lifting) Things huh?
STARRY: Yes, things.
CAPT: What’s your point Monaghan?
ELLIOTT: (to the captain) Just thinkin’ that he’s been all grief-stricken for centuries. Will another few weeks really make that much difference? To something that, uh, lives or whatever he does, for as long as he does it?
CAPT: A few weeks to do what?
ELLIOTT: (glances around the group uncomfortably.)
HALF-FACE: To get everyone who doesn’t need to be here out of harm’s way.
CAPT: Doctor, what’s your take on all this?
DR SOCKS: (leaning forward with his elbows on the table) Way I see it, we have three options. Assuming that we’re here because carrying on as we are is off the table. (He starts counting off on his fingers.) One, bundle everyone up on the Starwalker and take them someplace out of this system. Then come back and pick up where we left off with Lang Lang talking in her sleep.
(There’s general nodding around the room; this is not news.)
DR SOCKS: Two, use the Celestial Strider to ferry everyone not involved in the communication attempts to safety. The rest of us stay here and continue.
(A few frowns tug around the room, mostly Lang Lang, Rosie, and the captain.)
DR SOCKS: And three, do the same as option one, except leave a few of us behind to continue the communication attempts. The Starwalker can return and pick us up later.
STARRY: (blurts) No.
STARRY: I am not splitting my crew up again. I’m not leaving anyone behind here.
CAPT: If it’s a viable option, we should consider–
STARRY: (folds her arms over her chest) It’s not a viable option. This ship ain’t going anywhere without all her people on board.
ROSIE: Is using the Strider really an option, too? I mean, we went to all that fucking trouble to get her here and disable her.
CAPT: (nodding) The reasons for that haven’t gone away.
DR SOCKS: (shrugs) The only reason I mentioned it is that she’s the only other ship with a working FTL drive.
CAPT: Can we put her FTL drive into another ship?
ELLIOTT: (wrinkles his nose) Only other ship on the station is an old tug, and it’s too small to carry that many people. Also, it’d take weeks to recalibrate the drive for a new ship. Unless you don’t give a crap if they’re pancaked on the first jump.
STARRY: We don’t really have the personnel to split up into two ships, anyway. If nothing else, we’ve only got one medic, and while my doc’s good, he’s not good enough to be in two places at once.
DR SOCKS: (smiles and inclines his head towards the ship’s avatar in appreciation of the compliment.)
ROSIE: Do they really need a medic?
STARRY: The Strider‘s crew is mostly in good health, but Brenn Haitom is not. And it’s just irresponsible to set out on any voyage without a proper medic if you don’t absolutely have to. If anything happened in transit… (She shakes her head.)
CAPT: So what we’re saying is that there really is only one option: we must ferry everyone out of this system, then come back and try to help Cerces?
ROSIE: The spanner-head’s right: if Cerces has been this way for thousands of years, is a few more weeks gonna kill ‘im? He probably won’t even notice we’re gone.
ELLIOTT: (lifting an eyebrow at the SecOff) Spanner-head?
ROSIE: My next choice was ‘nut-wrencher’.
CAPT: (gives Rosie a quelling look.)
ROSIE: (looks unrepentant.)
ELLIOTT: (rolls his eyes.)
STARRY: So, is it decided? We’re going to put a pause in this endeavour of ours and get everyone out of the system?
CAPT: And return later to finish what we started. Yes, perhaps, but we need to look at the details first. Let’s talk about what needs to happen before we could do that.
So there it was: a crack in my captain’s unbending armour, a concession that maybe there was another way to do this. Sure, it would take longer. It would stretch out this whole endeavour, but people would be safe. Protected.
We’ve broken down what we need to do, looked at all the pieces, and then pushed them into motion.
The SecOffs are working on getting all of our passenger accommodation secured. I suspect it’s going to involve more sedatives to get them on board, but we need a way to have them secure once they’re here and we’re in transit. With all the supplies I’m taking on, my cargo holds aren’t going to have the space available to create a corral like we have in the station’s lower visitor lounge. Besides, they’re not beasts or criminals and it feels wrong to treat them like they are. Mid-deck is out of the question: we didn’t go through rescuing the Strider to put her crew in a place with direct access to a functioning Step drive and all the data from my Steps. Adapting crew areas seems to be the way to go.
The doctor has turned his attention to the crewmembers that were in my cryo-storage, to assess their conditions more thoroughly. He’ll make a decision soon about whether we can bring them back or not. I’m trying not to think about it too much; the captain was right: their current state means I can be hopeful that they’re not really gone. They’re not really dead. The captain wants a decision about whether they can be saved or not before we leave. I suppose… he’s right. My logic processors tell me that I have to face it sooner or later and there’s no viable data that says waiting is a good idea. It’s not fair to keep them in that state, or to keep their families in the dark about what has happened to them, just like it’s not fair to keep the Strider‘s crew locked up. We need to accept how things are and move on. I need to accept it. I need to be a better ship.
Elliott has been working non-stop to complete the stripping of my sister, taking her down to only the parts that we can’t salvage and store in case I need them one day. That’s most of what’s filling my cargo bays: parts of my sister. We’re still going to destroy her: everyone was agreed about that. We can’t risk there being a fragment of data left in her wiped systems, or someone extrapolating the design from the patterns in her hull from where the filaments once were or the fittings on her mid-deck that used to hold a Step drive. There are parts of it too big to remove and we need to dispose of those, too. Eradicate any chance of her being used to re-create the beast in my belly.
We know that there’s still a chance someone will build another Step drive one day, but we have to try. We have to make it as hard as possible for them to do it. We have to stop any and every attempt that we find.
Thinking about this, I have come to understand why Kess sent pirates after us. I understand why she grew desperate and worked outside the system. The system wasn’t built for something like this; it must record everything and this must not be recorded. Every record that exists is a danger, a way someone can try to rebuild it. This is why Lou Tripi never betrayed what really happened on my decks, even when she was tried for sabotage. Despite the awful things we – I – did to her, she stayed true to the mission she had been given.
I can’t forgive Tripi for the things she did, to Danika, or me, or Elliott. But I find that I understand her now, and that is an interesting place to be. I’ve done awful things, too. Hurt and killed people. Some will hate me now, just like I despise her.
Have I become her?
Is this going to be us now? Outside of the system, unable to work within the law, always hiding. Outlaws, rebels, renegades. Pirates.
That’s what I feel like as I undock from the station and drift down to the lower docking ring. A pirate, sword clamped between my teeth, crawling through the muck with seaweed clinging to my boots and gulls cawing overhead. Dirty and dastardly and not at all dashing. Missing teeth and a limb, replacement parts showing. A parrot mocking from just out of reach. Stained hands reaching out to grasp the pure, sweet form of an innocent girl so I can toss her into oblivion.
Elliott finished his work. There’s no reason to delay this any more. We can’t leave her here; someone could come while we’re gone. We all agreed: the Celestial Strider has to be destroyed, utterly and thoroughly. We agreed. But it’s my hands that have to do it.
The grapple snags on her like fingernails. I dig in, get a good grip, and feel sick right down to the bolts in my hull. I thrust away slowly to pick up the slack and the tow line seems to ache.
There’s not much left of the sister who followed me through the Step, but I can still see her. She’s what I could have been. She’s a proper ship. Some might think I’d be glad to get rid of her, to wipe away the reminder of everything I’m not, the illustration of all the ways I fail to be the ship I should have been. But I’m not glad.
CAPT: Starry, what’s our status?
STARRY: (voice only) Grapple contact is positive. I’m moving into tow position. Just waiting for the Strider to be cut free.
CAPT: (tapping his fingers on the arm of his chair, his lips set in an unhappy line) Once you’re in tow position, hold there.
STARRY: Is there a problem?
CAPT: No, the Strider is taking on a final cargo. It’s on its way to her now.
STARRY: (avatar resolving in front of the captain’s chair, wearing a concerned expression) Cargo? But she’s going into the black hole.
CAPT: (meets her gaze grimly) The doctor has concluded his investigations in Med Bay.
Oh no. No, I know what that means.
The stomach I don’t have just fell through my feet and out into the vacuum.
CAPT: Valdimir and the Lieutenant are on their way down with those who didn’t make it.
I see it now, the packet that the doctor sent through to my captain thirty-two seconds ago. Private and secure, I couldn’t peek at the contents without stripping off the encryption one layer at a time. I should have known it was a medical report, but I was so focussed on my sister…
STARRY: (softly) How many?
CAPT: (looks at her for a long moment before answering) All of them.
STARRY: (swallows) So this is… this is a funeral procession?
CAPT: (glances away from her) Yes. It is now. It needs to be done.
STARRY: We should dock. The others should be here for this.
CAPT: We’re already out here, the tow line…
STARRY: Will reach to the next dock along the ring. They’ll want to see them off, captain.
CAPT: (looks at the avatar again) You’re right. (He rises from his chair.) Call the crew in and dock to pick them up.
CAPT: I’ll… be in my cabin. (He turns to leave the Bridge, but pauses halfway.) Thank you, Starry.
STARRY: (bewildered) Of course, captain.
This is hitting the captain harder than I thought it would. What he said about what those crewmembers kept on ice meant, he wasn’t just talking about me. He needed it, too. It was his hope, and now it’s gone. They’re gone.
His crew. His responsibility, ultimately. Hurt under his command, too badly wounded to be healed. Killed. We’ve got our answer now, and that slim shard of hope has melted. We can call them dead, now. Lost.
He will need to say something. Words to see them off, something fitting. That’s probably what he has gone to his cabin to prepare.
In the meantime, I spool out my tow line and come around to the next dock along the ring. I send the call out across the station. All those not already on board start moving in my direction.
Little sister, you’re not an innocent victim being tossed into a hungry maw any more. You have a new role, a final part to play, a burden that only you can carry. I know you’ll bear it well.
Somehow, as awful as it all is, I feel like this is a step in the right direction. Perhaps it’s because ships don’t know how to cry.