09 Oct

Signs of life

Ship's log, 18:09, 10 July 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked and powered down

 

No wonder it has been so hard to find the survivors on this station. Some idiot had recalibrated the personnel tracking system to… I have no idea what they were trying to do with it. If I had to guess, I’d say that they were trying to detect the ghosts, but all they did was remove any ability to track real people.

Idiots.

There wasn’t any hope of fixing it, so I wound up rebooting half of the station’s systems and resetting them back to their factory defaults.

It seems to have worked. It’s not optimum; if I had the time and resources, I’d refine the protocols managing the systems, but this will have to do for now. The station’s logs are filling up with reports of bodies, more than I care to tally. I put in an order for the station and its drones to log everything about the corpses before dealing with them in some way. Put them into storage, at least. They need names and death records, if their families are ever going to know what happened to them.

Okay, maybe their families aren’t ever going to know what happened to them. Is that up to us, now? Have we become the bearers of awful news? Is it our responsibility to clean this mess up?

I don’t know. The captain is on board with everything I’m doing and seems to feel like he should step in here. I support him, because I’m his ship. But I don’t know if we have the resources on this station to store all of the dead. I don’t know if we’re equipped to deal with all of this.

We do what we can do. And another thing we can do now is to locate the living people on board the ship. Those twelve life signs have been holding steady ever since we got here, and now that the detection system is working how it should be, I can guide my people to where they are.

Rosie and the Lieutenant are making their way back to the lounge after a trip to one of the arboretums where the station patiently grows food for people who are no longer here. It wasn’t exactly a fruitful trip – and if I’m not mistaken, Rosie is still pissed – but we have ticked four off our list of twelve life signs to locate.

 

Sensor log, recorded 16:39, 10 July 2214
Location: Access corridor B, upper arboretum

STARRY: (over station comms) It’s just around the corner to your right. You’re almost there.

ROSIE: (walking in the lead along the corridor, fingering the grip of her handgun with absent-minded tension) That’s in the observation deck. You sure?

STARRY: I’m sure.

HALF-FACE: (following the other SecOff, he looks around warily, likewise holding his weapon ready. He doesn’t fidget, however.)

ROSIE: (flattens herself against the wall beside the right-hand turn and gestures to her companion.)

HALF-FACE: (stops out of sight of anything around the corner. The pupil of his cybernetic eye dilates as it scans different parts of the spectrum. A little shake of his head indicates that he’s not picking anything up.)

ROSIE: (voice dropping to a hiss) What’ve you got, Starry?

STARRY: (reduced volume) No direct sensor contact. Not many sensors looking inside the observation room, and the light’s bad. The arboretum is in the middle of a night cycle; I’m trying to break it out of it, but it’s gonna take some time. Life signs are pinpointed… ten metres from the corner, straight line from the entrance to the rear right corner.

ROSIE: Just one signal?

STARRY: Yes.

ROSIE: Ten metres?

STARRY: Yes. Holding position.

ROSIE: (glances at her companion, then snaps her weapon up to point in the direction they had just come from. Her eyes narrow at something.) Starry! What about over there?

STARRY: Nothing there.

HALF-FACE: (reflexively aiming his weapon in the same direction, he tenses, then frowns. Plastiskin pulls over his half-metal facial structure and he lowers his weapon.)

STARRY: Ghost?

HALF-FACE: One of mine.

ROSIE: (nods and lowers her weapon, pulling her attention away from the illusion) Okay, on three. One, two…

(On her next nod, both SecOffs spin themselves around the corner of the access corridor and slip into the room beyond. One wall is a long curve of glass, looking out over the lush foliage of the arboretum. The night-cycle is barely lit, and thin silvery light slides into the room, reflected off leaves and the fine mist of water that flows over the plants.

The room itself holds only a few chairs and doesn’t seem to have its own lighting. The SecOffs carefully check every corner and shadow, but they don’t find anyone.)

ROSIE: (glances at the Lieutenant.)

HALF-FACE: (shrugs and shakes his head.)

ROSIE: Starry, we’ve got nothin’ here!

STARRY: The readings are telling me that the life form is nine metres to your left.

ROSIE: (turns to her left, facing down the length of the room that curves around the side of the arboretum. Her gun hovers at a downwards angle, bobbing as if it wants to come up, but there’s no target.) That’s inside the room! Laurence, you got anything?

HALF-FACE: Nothing.

ROSIE: Starry, you sure?

STARRY: That’s what the readings are telling me.

ROSIE: Well, you’re not reading it right!

STARRY: Wait, it’s moving… it’s coming right for you.

ROSIE: (backs up a step) There’s nothing there!

STARRY: Five metres…

ROSIE: (steps to the side, still scanning) I don’t see it!

STARRY: Three metres…

HALF-FACE: (frowns and dilates his cybernetic eye again, then stares hard at the floor.)

STARRY: Two metres…

HALF-FACE: Under the floor! I see it… it’s…

STARRY: One metre…

ROSIE: (backing up and searching for any sign of the signal source) It’s what? Spit it out!

HALF-FACE: I’m not sure. It’s really small.

STARRY: There’s an access panel to the ducts under the floor near the door you entered by.

ROSIE: For fuck’s sake, Starry, you couldn’t have told us it was under the floor?

STARRY: The station is too stupid to tell! Hurry up if you want to grab it.

(The SecOffs rush towards the access corridor and thump the corners of the panel in the floor. The seal releases with a soft hiss and Rosie lifts the panel up and out of the way. The Lieutenant lies down on his stomach and reaches into the ducts below with a metal hand.)

ROSIE: (dropping the panel behind her) Well? You got it?

HALF-FACE: Almost… almost… yes! Got it!

(He withdraws his arm and pushes himself up slowly, lifting the small creature free. It’s covered in brown and black stripes, and it growls and swipes at him, claws raking across plastiskin and pinging off the metal parts of his arm. It wriggles fiercely, forcing him to readjust his grip. Even holding it by the back of the neck doesn’t calm it or the vehemence of its growling.)

ROSIE: (staying out of reach) Fucking hell. What is that thing? Does it have six legs or something?

HALF-FACE: (grunting and holding it away from himself, so it has less of him to claw at) What’s the matter, Brasco, you’ve never seen a cat before?

ROSIE: Not in person. What’s wrong with its mouth?

HALF-FACE: It’s got something in it.

STARRY: Food, probably. It must be scavenging to survive here.

ROSIE: (stands up and holsters her weapon) Scavenging what?

STARRY: Do you really want to know? Because I’m thinking that the options aren’t good.

ROSIE: (hesitates, swallows unpleasantly, then blusters) Starry, you sent us up here after a cat?

STARRY: The station doesn’t distinguish between the signals! I’m still trying to calibrate it properly, but these aren’t my systems.

ROSIE: Shit.

HALF-FACE: (tilts his head as he looks at the cat, then holsters his weapon and tries to hug the creature against his chest. Claws dig into his sleeve and it keeps growling, but it stops wriggling. Feline eyes narrow at the half-metal face. He looks down at it calmly.)

ROSIE: (watches the cat warily, staying a clear metre away) So what the hell do we do with it now?

That wasn’t an easy question to answer. Ultimately, now that I know what the life signal is, I can have the station tag and track it. So there’s no danger of sending my SecOffs after it again if we let it go. And what else were we supposed to do? Kill it? Keep it somehow?

When I looked at the other life signs in the station, I located another three clumped together not far from the arboretum. They were similar enough to the one that the Lieutenant was holding that it seemed safe to send my people to check them out.

The closer they got to the new trio, the more agitated the cat in the Lieutenant’s arms became. Rosie had to open a wall panel to access the nook they were hiding in, to the soundtrack of feline wailing and the Lieutenant swearing under his breath. He glanced at the nook and then released the animal. I had to wait until the SecOffs moved back a step before I could get a good sensor angle on it.

Kittens. Eyes open, stumbling in juvenile confusion; they couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old. The cat was clearly their mother: she jumped up in front of them and puffed herself up, swearing at my people in her worst feline language. The Lieutenant was content to stand back and rub his arms as if they stung from all the scratching. Rosie didn’t seem inclined to interfere either. In the end, neither of them wanted to get close enough to put the panel back on the wall, so they left the nook exposed and slipped away.

So now we know what four of the life signs are. And I know that the station includes the ducts in its definition of a deck in its structure. I’m trying to refine the other eight signals so we can focus on the bigger ones first. I think everyone will be pissed if they all turn out to be cats, but the logs prove that a human was alive shortly before we arrive, so we have to have some hope, right?

My SecOffs are arriving back at the visitor’s lounge now, footsore and grumbling. Well, the grumbling is mostly from Rosie; the Lieutenant is as stoic as he always is, despite the damage to his forearms. I wonder if that hurts. Does he have pain sensation in his cybernetic limbs?

The largest life sign I can locate is right down in the bowels of the station. Engineering sector. That’s a long way from the docking ring, so maybe I’ll let them eat before I break the news. The rest of the life signs are spread out across the station, except… wait. That’s strange.

 

Live sensor feed
Location: Visitor's lounge

CAPTAIN: (sitting at a table, surrounded by a wrap of holographic displays of overlapping data streams, from scrolling text to fast-forwarding sensor logs. He looks up when the tromp of feet down the corridor reaches him. His gaze trips over a small figure in the doorway and moves quickly past it, looking for his crewmembers.)

ELLIOTT: (seated nearby, he doesn’t so much as glance up from the meal he’s ploughing into.)

ROSIE: (muttering under her breath, she pulls off her gloves as she swerves around the figure in the doorway. She enters the room without giving it a second glance, bee-lining for the beverage dispenser.)

 

I’ve been so busy looking for big signals that I missed it. Coming right at them. Idiot ship!

 

CAPT: How’d it go?

ROSIE: Starry didn’t tell you?

STARRY: (over station comms, voice only) Been a little busy.

HALF-FACE: (steps his bulk carefully around the obstacle in the doorway and moves towards a seat. The little one watches him go past, tracking him with big eyes. He doesn’t look down.)

 

It’s not my fault. I’m not built for this kind of remote monitoring. I’m barely managing to run my own systems and keep up with demand as it is.

I should have seen it. Should have noticed the sensor feeds.

 

ROSIE: (punches her order into the dispenser’s interface and throws her free hand up) Cats! Starry sent us after fucking cats.

ELLIOTT: (grins lopsidedly between mouthfuls) They were fucking when you found them?

ROSIE: (glares at him) No, don’t be stupid.

STARRY: Um…

CAPT: Cats? (He glances at the Lieutenant.)

HALF-FACE: (drops into a chair with a sigh, shifting his belt so that his weapons sit more comfortably) Yeah. Female and three babies.

CAPT: Starry, you couldn’t tell they were cats?

STARRY: No, I’m still trying to refine the detection system. And, uh, by the way…

 

They can’t tell. They think it’s just a ghost and are ignoring her like all the rest.

 

ROSIE: Cats! What a fucking waste of time. And Starry was all ‘it’s coming right at you! ahhh!’ Lieutenant Larry over here nearly shit himself.

CAPT: (lifts an eyebrow.)

HALF-FACE: (shakes his head, the corner of his mouth twitching.)

ELLIOTT: (manages to laugh and chew without choking.)

STARRY: Guys?

ROSIE: (grabs the dispensed cup of frothy beer and starts chugging it back.)

CAPT: (pulling his attention away from the SecOffs) What is it, Starry?

 

They’re gonna kill me.

 

STARRY: You all see the kid in the doorway, right?

(All heads in the room swivel towards the doorway and a hush falls.

There, a small child no more than two or three years old stands, staring back at them. Her black hair is pulled into a wispy ponytail and she’s dressed in a pink frilly shirt over darker pink leggings. There’s a white shoe on her left foot and only a dirty sock on her right. She hugs a stuffed toy to her chest, grey and stained and threadbare from much use. When attention turns to her, she ducks her face down behind it, peeking over the top with big eyes.)

STARRY: Because I’ve got her on sensors.

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12 Responses to “Signs of life”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow, great :)

    Poor girl though – I hope she is able to tell them something … *hugs her and Starry*

    So, I wonder what they are doing about the cat and kitties…

    mjkj

  2. Medic Says:

    It’s the baby that was born on station!

    And why am I suddenly reminded of a ST: Voyager episode of the ship eating wormhole that showed people what they most desired in order to keep them?

  3. Marcus Says:

    Please call the cat Ripley and the little girl Newt…

  4. Cabal Says:

    D’aww x 2

  5. thomas Says:

    Is the baby the one causing the delusions? How did she survive?

    The must be someone or something taking care of her. Human – must be male. Bot?

    Great chapter. Thanks

  6. Targetdrone Says:

    0.o great read!

    now how is that kid surviving on her own?

    also.. cuuuute, cats… can starry keep ‘em? ;)
    (and btw, i finally came around, checked and found out starry still is live and kicking.,.. so i had to come back :P )

  7. EdorFaus Says:

    Hm, so, probably at most 7 people left of the crew then (12 minus 3 kittens and 2 cats (female known, male likely)).
    Possibly less, but at minimum one (the girl), and probably at least two (someone to raise her)… So still 5 unknown (and 2 uncertain).

    I had a thought after reading this… Now that Starry is able to track the life signs, why didn’t she go through them in turn, hooking into the sensors for the area each is in, to take a look at what they are like, before sending her people to them? Were all of them in places without enough working cameras (or whatever visual sensors she uses)? Or was it just that none of them thought about that option?

  8. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – yup, Starry and her crew are going to need to figure out what to do with the strays at some point.

    Medic – yes!
    I remember the episode you’re talking about. Fun!

    Marcus – I love that you got the Aliens reference. :D
    The cat should really be called Jones, but I’m willing to be flexible. ;)

    Cabal – :D

    thomas – you’re welcome! And yes, someone or something must be taking care of the little one.

    Targetdrone – welcome back! :)
    Now I have a mental image of Bit and Byte trying to herd kittens around one of Starry’s cargo bays….

    EdorFaus – Yup, I think Starry will be more proactive about getting visual sensor contacts on the life signs before she sends people out again. If only so Rosie stops whining about being turned into a cat-wrangler. ;) She didn’t think that the station would pick up something as small as a cat, but she’s learning.

  9. Kunama Says:

    Ehehehe kitties!
    Bit and Byte are SMALLER than, or the same size as kittens, since they regularly sit upon Elliot. That mental image is funny!
    Resident ship’s cat(s). I do like the idea.
    Especially if they turn out to be mutant telepathic cats.

  10. mjkj Says:

    Indeed, Starry is a good ship :D

  11. Melanie Says:

    Kunama – yup, they’ll be smaller than kittens. I can just imagine Bit and Byte riding the kittens. Having races… uh oh.

    mjkj – she tries, bless her. :D

  12. Salrissa Says:

    “I love that you got the Aliens reference”? I got it so much I was worried something fast with a black exoskeleton and full of claws was going to come bursting out at them!