03 Sep

Short: The Bottle

As promised, here’s a little something extra for you, my lovely readers. Another short, this one focussed on the  lady that made the Starwalker project possible.



The doors hissed closed and Lorena felt the tension ease from her body now that she was finally alone. Her shoulders dropped from their rigid line and she closed her eyes for a moment.

Silence reigned in her private quarters. Distantly, the hum of the ship pressed through the bulkheads: the buzz of engines; turbines pushing the air through the ducts; the shifting of the artificial gravity regulators laced under the decking. To Lorena, it felt like there was a sound beyond that, something deeper and darker than the vacuum of space beyond the hull. It was the sound of shattering.

She dragged off her white jacket, the traditional costume of her profession, and dropped it onto a chair as she went to one of her storage lockers. She had to reach all the way to the bottom to find the bottle, and she wiped the label off as she stood straight again, frowning at it. It was over thirty years old, kept in careful storage all this time.

Briefly, she thought about launching it across the room.


“Dr Lorena Cirilli?” The voice was brisk and blurred her name together, almost reducing it to ‘Silly’. There was no hint of levity in the taut package of young woman standing there, though. She wore a stiff, buttoned-down suit (who uses buttons these days?), her hair was smoothed down so precisely that it shone in a single, gleaming surface over her skull, and her lips looked like they had been drawn on by a sombre hand.

Lorena rose, feeling frumpy in her loose pants, white jacket, and untied hair. “Yes?” Nerves fluttered in her stomach and she smiled, trying not to look hopeful. Finally, it was time.

The young woman raked a glance over the doctor and poked at the interface hovering over her left forearm. “This way, please.” She turned on a spike heel and stalked off towards the elevators.

Lorena had to pause to grapple with her things; she had two large folders with her and they were awkward to wrangle at best. The delay sent her scurrying to catch up with the young woman. She frowned at the back of the perfectly-brushed hair; she had no idea who this person was, not even her position in this company.

The girl was doing this on purpose to make Lorena feel off-balance. They’d sent a young, pretty, professional package to get Lorena so that she’d feel the differences between them. She was forcing Lorena to hurry to avoid being left behind on purpose. It was a test. Basic psychology, putting her on the back foot and making her rush to meet their agenda. Putting her in the position of doing what they wanted on their timetable.

The elevator doors open and they stepped inside. Lorena tried not to sound out of breath as she mulled this over. The young woman nudged the holographic interface for one of the higher levels; Lorena couldn’t quite see which control she pressed. A faint rushing noise alluded to motion they couldn’t feel.

This meeting would set the tone for their entire working relationship. Lorena knew they were trying to unsettle her and put her in a subservient position. She adjusted the folders in her hand and straightened her shoulders. Their plan wasn’t going to work. After all, she was a scientist; she only had to pay attention to the relevant data. She was the same age as this woman, didn’t put that much stock in physical appearance, and she was perfectly capable of meeting them on professional grounds. It was time to play her own game.

When the taut young woman stalked out of the elevator on her impossible heels, Lorena didn’t hurry to follow. She strode at her own pace and when the girl stopped at a pair of tall, wooden doors, Lorena just gave her a cool look. She walked through in her own time with her head held up. She wasn’t here to beg. She was here because her work was worth something and these people wanted to buy it.

“Dr Cirilli.” The man behind the desk rose, smoothing down the front of his expensive suit with one hand and extending the other in greeting. He looked just like every company executive did, except this one had sharp eyes that missed nothing. This was the shark who had sent the assistant to play mind games with her.

“Mr Karataga, lovely to finally meet you in person,” Lorena replied with a nod. She placed her folders carefully down in front of his desk and reached over to shake his hand. Outwardly, she was calm and collected; on the inside, nerves fought battles in her intestines. This was it; she was finally here.

Mr Karataga, head of R&D at Isasimo Technologies (Is-Tech), gestured for his guest to take a seat and settled back into the huge curve of his own chair. “Your work seems to be highly regarded, Doctor. I can’t help but wonder why you’ve come to us.”

Lorena smiled, though she knew what he was doing. More mind games, trying to slant the conversation to his advantage. He must want her work badly if he was trying to negotiate a good deal for the company like this.

“My work is highly regarded,” she said. “But there were budget cutbacks at the Lunar University. I came because you invited me here. Would you like to see the projections of my research now?”

Mr Karataga inclined his head towards her, acknowledging her attitude. “Getting right to it – I like how you think, Doctor. Please.” Another sweeping gesture invited her to present her material.

Two hours later, Mr Karataga glanced at the chronometer glowing through the skin on the back of his hand with surprise. The interview had not been scheduled to take this long.

“Well, Dr Cirilli, you’ve more than answered my questions. Your research is more promising than I was led to believe.”

Lorena waved off the holographic displays hovering above her open folders. “The applications, especially for a company like yours, are astounding, Mr Karataga.” She settled neatly into her chair again, sipping the glass of water she had made his prim assistant fetch for her.

“Indeed. And the deal I’ve laid out is acceptable for you?”

“My own lab, complete autonomy on the project…”

“Within budgetary limits,” Mr Karataga slid in seamlessly.

Lorena nodded. “And the ability to hand-pick my own staff.”

“In exchange for an exclusivity and confidentiality contract over and above the length of your employment with Is-Tech. And suitable recompense for yourself during your tenure, of course.”

“Of course.”

The pair eyed each other across the expanse of the real-wood desk like circling tigers. Lorena blinked first, wondering what he was waiting for.

Mr Karataga smiled and stood in a single, smooth motion. His hand was extended towards her again. “It sounds like we are on the same page. Welcome aboard, Dr Cirilli. How soon can you get started?”

“Well, there’s still the solar experiment licenses to acquire, and some other legal…”

“Oh, don’t worry about all that. We have a whole legal team dedicated to making sure those kinds of things don’t get in your way. Leave it to us.”

She hesitated, briefly considering her options. Is-Tech was the biggest ship-builder across all the colonies and the most likely to be able to afford to fund her research. They weren’t the hungriest for new propulsion technology, but they’d pay just to keep it out of others’ hands. The universities had all turned her down and refused to fund her attempts to get the licenses she needed for the next phase of the experimentation. The avenues were sadly few for an experimental physicist in her area. And he seemed so confident that it would all work out.

She rose and put her hand in his, smiling and daring to feel relief. Hope, even. Her search was finally over.

“It’s my pleasure to accept your offer, Mr Karataga. I can start as soon as the lab is set up.”

“Then we’ll get started on that tomorrow.”

So fast! Lorena smiled, giddy with it. Her head was already full of all the things she’d need for her new lab. The equipment she had to order, the old research assistants she had to contact…

It had been months since she’d stepped foot in a lab; it had been almost a year since the university had withdrawn her funding and shut her down. Now, it was all about to begin again. She was closing in on the algorithm that would unlock the secrets of the universe, and she could feel the adrenaline moving through her as she left Mr Karataga’s office. She swept up to the tautly-dressed assistant without even a blink and the girl’s haughty directions to the HR department didn’t dent her smile in the least.

An hour later, she stood on the sidewalk outside the towering Is-Tech headquarters and still felt like she was floating. Her work and her life were about to begin again.

She spotted a wine store down the street and turned her steps towards it. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but she knew she wanted to celebrate. The sales assistant asked her three times what she wanted, but she didn’t answer until a bottle in a case behind the counter caught her eye.

“That one,” she said, pointing. The heavy-bottomed bottle was carefully handed out of the case and presented to her.

“Is it for a special occasion?” the sales assistant asked.

Lorena smiled warmly at the bottle of champagne. “Yes, it is. I’ll take two.”


She still remembered what the champagne had tasted like on that night, over thirty years ago. How it had fizzed, first on her tongue, then in her stomach, and then in her head. She had shared it with her research assistants, all of whom were long gone now. And she had promised herself that she would open this second bottle to celebrate when the project was finally deemed a success.

That day would never come. She knew that now. After all these years, all the struggling and fighting, all the failing and scraping back to start again, all the tiny steps and mis-steps. After walking away from her family so she could move to Feras with her project. After missing her children grow into teenagers and then adults. After missing the birth of her grandchildren. After everything she had given to make this project happen, she was never going to get that day when the world would know that she had won. She was right. It was possible to bend stars to her will and circumvent the laws of physics. It was all possible.

She couldn’t have known the cost. There was no way she could have predicted the damage that it would do, or that she would kill an entire star.

Dr Lorena Cirilli looked at the bottle in her hand and knew in her heart that she’d never succeed now. She was nearly seventy years old, though she barely looked over forty; there was only so much fighting left in her. There was always something more, always another reason why it wouldn’t happen. The stars themselves were telling her that it was wrong. How much more would it take before she finally accepted the truth?

No more. The scientist in her wanted there to be an answer, but she didn’t think there was an algorithm for this.

The cork bounced off the far wall and nearly shattered one of her awards. Froth dribbled over her hands and spattered onto the floor. She closed her mouth over the end and tried to capture it all, not wanting to waste any. Champagne and tears dripped off her chin as she lifted the bottle high, drinking deep.

It was supposed to taste like triumph, but maybe she’d find oblivion instead.

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4 Responses to “Short: The Bottle”

  1. Francisco Says:

    Hopefully there isn’t much booze on Starwalker or Dr Cirilli could be starting down a dangerous road.

  2. mjkj Says:


    Poor Dr Cirilli, she did not dream of it ending that way…

    …well, in a way she was successful — and with Starry her step-drive is working — though the cost it took is far beyond what she imagined…

    I hope she will find somebody to relate to and talk to…


  3. eduardo Says:

    Well, I keep hoping that there is a way out. A way to circumvent the “loosing matter and energy” to the void problem.
    Perhaps Starry even has the solution in her data banks already …
    And, if it was impossible, how would stars talk to each other?

  4. Melanie Says:

    Francisco – indeed! She is in a bad place, poor Cirilli.

    mjkj – yes! I think that’s part of her frustration: she was, essentially, correct. It’s just that they’ve all decided it’s not /right/.

    I didn’t make it clear, but this is set back a little in the main story’s timeline. Around the time when her cracks were showing and before the captain went to see what was going on with her. (The shorts I’m writing are all over the map, time-wise. They’re set whenever it most suits the character and their particular personal story.)

    eduardo – there’s a long way to go, so who knows! There might be a solution yet, but I make no promises. 😉
    Maybe the stars wink at each other in a vast, cosmic blinking conversation. Or their avatars travel and meet. So many possibilities!